When an artist announces they're releasing a mini-album, alarm bells start ringing. Didn't they have enough decent material for a proper album? Couldn't they have shown a little more quality control and cut it down to an EP? You immediately expect something meagre, slapdash and half-hearted, the term often serving as ego insurance against criticism, “Oh yeah, but that was just a mini-album you know?"
“MU.ZZ.LE”, the new release from Warp Record's yoga teaching beat mystic Gonjasufi (real name Sumach Ecks), boasts 24 minutes over ten tracks. Not too scanty. Furthermore, he only recently released “The 9th Inning” EP, which if added to “MU.ZZ.LE” would take it to around 35 minutes, making it a proper follow-up to 2010's addictive “A Sufi A Killer” LP.
Surprisingly for a Warp artist, label interference seems partially to blame. Ecks gave away “The 9th Inning” for free following frustration with Warp's reluctance to release his “rap shit”. Thus the vocals on “MU.ZZ.LE” are almost entirely sung, although his scratchy voice is so unusual, sometimes slurring with the red-eyed drawl of a skunked-up swami, sometimes wailing like he's in the midst of a psychotic episode, that you barely think of it as singing. Beneath the layers of fuzz and distortion he swamps his vocals in, there's a sense of a man communing his deepest thoughts as unselfconsciously as he can.
It's a somewhat melancholy record, and contradicting the usual “mini-album” assumptions it's clearly had a lot of time spent on it; all the songs are deftly smudged together to avoid any jarring moments that might shatter the mood. It opens with the nightmarish stumble of “White Picket Fence”, topping a hard-boiled Film Noir keyboard line with a nightmarish moan. “Feedin' Birds” is similarly cinematic, but the threatening guitar chords suggest Western stand-offs rather than private dicks. Ecks' wife appears, sweetly complimenting her husband's throatier emoting by sounding remarkably like Martina Topley-Bird.
It's a slow start though, and it's only when “Nikels and Dimes” kicks in with its woozy organ riff and oddly haunting samples of children laughing that your ears really prick up. Simultaneously sad and spacey, awash with whirling chimes and backwards beats, it calls to mind an astronaut looking out from a broken spaceship, gazing at a planet he can never return to. Whereas many of the tracks clock in at under two minutes (curious sketches rather than full songs), here Ecks' knows he's captured something beautiful and gives it plenty of room to bloom – it's the longest and best track on the album.
The second longest is the second best. “The Blame” concocts a similar atmosphere but with the keyboards and beats taking a back seat to the vocals, which for once are almost crystal clear and, anomalously for a Gonjasufi song, mostly decipherable. Luckily the wordplay here is much stronger than on the lopsided “Timeout” or the tatty “Blaksuit”, on both of which Ecks wails on about Zion like a reggae singer too drunk or stoned to notice the band isn't playing any more. Couplets like “Children fuck in blown up malls / Grown men fucking blow-up dolls” are much more original, although it wouldn't be Gonjasufi if the first line hadn't been alternatively transcribed elsewhere as “Till they fucking blow up Mars” (knowing him, it's probably something else entirely).
Yet while the lyrics might only be semi-intelligible, the mood of “MU.ZZ.LE” is much more consistent than “A Sufi A Killer”. Problem is, the unpredictability of the latter album was a big part of its charm. Perhaps Warp's stubbornness in demanding“that singing shit” and thus denying Ecks the opportunity to break things up with funkier tracks like “The Lows” from “The 9th Inning” is to blame. While he's rightly proud of this record, he's been murmuring that the best is yet to come, quoted as saying “I love Warp...but I can’t allow any label to box me in and suffocate my expression...I want people to grab my record and know it’s all kinds of crazy, different shit”. Perhaps this feeling of being muzzled is why he's dubbed “MU.ZZ.LE” a mini-album. With a bit of flexibility from his label, the next one could be a colossus.