[Warp; 2012]

With an amazing string of releases (A Sufi And A Killer, The Caliph’s Tea Party and the hip-hop inspired EP The Ninth Inning), I expected Gonjasufi’s next release to be just as mind-blowing as his previous ones. Sumach Ecks, the man behind the moniker, has become well known for his experimental recordings and recently holed up in the Mojave Desert to focus on his latest release.

I don’t know whether to call MU.ZZ.LE a short album or simply an EP (the term they’ve officially opted for is “mini-LP”). What I do know is that it’s short. This release is under half an hour long and only two of the 10 songs break the three-minute mark. “Nikels and Dimes” kicks off with a hypnotizing drumbeat over some high-pitched synth lines before Gonjasufi sings in his signature vocal style coated in distortion. The drums are occasionally filtered through a phase-effect, bringing the synths and strings to the foreground. “Venom” runs as slow as molasses and at times the only sound that can be heard is the beads rolling around the gourds and shakers.

While there are a couple tracks that stand out, the album as a whole is lacking. It feels rushed and incomplete. This is by no means an accessible album and it can be difficult to get through, despite its brevity. The lyrical content, while personal, gets lost in the overabundance of vocal distortion that has the potential to alienate the audience. Some tracks, like the album closer “Sniffin’,” are downright unlistenable.

The main problem with this release is the production. The Gaslamp Killer is responsible for the production on Gonjasufi’s A Sufi And A Killer, and Flying Lotus even put some finishing touches on the album, which was a creative mix of Eastern samples, Low End Theory beats and hallucinogenic psychedelia. All of that is missing on MU.ZZ.LE. What listeners receive instead is the hollowness of an empty cage. The album cover reflects that perfectly, with a bearded, muzzled man in contrast to the scratched and stained background. A red, ghost image of the muzzled face is projected close to the “original,” implying that within the album lies a bad trip.

This release doesn’t match up with the progression Gonjasufi established with his previous releases. It sounds like an artist caught in the middle of a creative struggle. Hopefully we’ll hear something redeeming from Gonjasufi, because MU.ZZ.LE is a step in the wrong direction, or even worse, a step backwards.