In an interview with Dazed magazine, Sumach Ecks, a.k.a. Gonjasufi, claimed he learned “the importance of stillness” through practicing yoga. On his third album, Callus, that stillness is being encroached upon by a dualistic force outside of, but still very much a part of, himself.
This war-hell ride besetting Gonjasufi is obviously supposed to be indicative of a cultural sickness. On the album’s opening track, “Your Maker,” he wonders whether anybody is “private” or “tired from working on a slave ship.” These lyrics indicate his belief—and the album’s main concern—in corporatized life occluding personal autonomy. He identifies the adherents to American virtues of evangelism, appropriation, and conceit (on “The Conspiracy,” “Afrikan Spaceship” and “Prints of Sin,” respectively) as charlatans or victims, and posits his belief in metaphysical unity as the abolition of our current political and economic systems: “Krishna Punk” posits killing “the corporation,” though that’s more or less just a rail against our spiritual impoverishment.
The album’s lyrics wouldn’t be such a sticking point if Gonjasufi’s music wasn’t equally reductive.
Ultimately, Gonjasufi believes corruption is inescapable: “Never go outside/It stinks out/It stinks in my house,” he sings on “Shakin Parasites.” The stink invading his home is supposed to invoke evil’s omnipresence, a porous “house” signaling that solace is untenable, but the metaphor is so overworn that it makes his paranoid grief feel phoned-in. Most of Gonjasufi’s indictments of a materialistic, double-speaking, and specious society are ineffective because they’re cliché. The symptoms of decay he bemoans have been widely criticized since the ’60s, and of course they’re still entirely relevant, but his standpoint is as constructive a personal/political statement as stitching Dischord patches to a jacket. A line like “Devils are preaching fire” means as little as “Bad people say bad things.”
Such lyrics wouldn’t be such a sticking point, however, if the music wasn’t equally reductive. On his previous releases, Gonjasufi achieved an impressive blend of glitchy hip-hop and shoegaze while he croaked imaginistic lyrics like “I gave your heart and lungs a new wedding.” Callus is a repetitious sequence of bass plodding out quarter notes and droning guitar that doesn’t impress dread so much as boredom. Though a diverse amount of instruments are featured throughout the album, they’re often isolated in a way that reflects their incoherence to the whole like the dislocating Cliff Burton-esque solo that’s replaced with a bagpipe solo at the end of “Afrikan Spaceship.”
Gonjasufi has said that Callus is about growing into pain. Certainly he didn’t mean desensitizing yourself to pain like it’s a shell of numb defeatism, but growing into it as an empathetic understanding of everyone else’s suffering. Unfortunately, Gonjasufi’s attempt to turn his solidarity with the angry and the dispossessed into a musical concept is too blandly realized to be convincing.