Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: "Beak & Claw" by s/s/s

Beak & Claw was released March 20,2012 by Anticon Records
Many of you may have been as shocked as I was when, a little over two weeks ago, the blogosphere lit up with news that Sufjan Stevens, the master composer who has brought us opuses like the timeless Illinois and and neoclassical symphony The BQE, was working on a hip-hop record. Beak & Claw is a four song EP which sees Stevens collaborating with Chicago's avant-garde rapper Serengeti and Denver's Son Lux, whose production style defies classification but lies somewhere between trip hop and ambient electronica. The first single "Museum Day", which was available to stream when the EP was announced, was exactly as out-there as one would expect. The song opens with Sufjan crooning some kind of bizarre, autotuned new age poetry ("Make it right, make it right, energy") and slows to a sparse drumbeat layered with spacey synthesizers and Serengeti drops some stream-of-consciousness rhymes before the song builds back up to its hooky chorus, the psychedelic insanity of which would make Wayne Coyne jealous.

For the most part, this pattern is followed throughout the four tracks. It may seem a bit tiresome initially, but begs for another listen as soon as it's done (and with a duration of less than twenty minutes, there's really no reason not to). After repeat encounter, the songs each begin to develop their own unique character; for example, the second track "Beyond Any Doubt" is driven by a head-bobbing militant sounding drumbeat familiar to modern rap while the low, gravelly bass and Motown-esque vocal hook of "If This Is Real" make it sound like something George Clinton would churn out if he signed to Roc-A-Fella. The closing track "Octomom" describes Serengeti's fictional (I hope) encounter with the infamous Nadya Suleman, in which he takes her to his high-school prom but forgets her corsage, the runs into her many years later at a deli where they rekindle their lost romance. And of course, the whole thing ends with a hillbilly jug band breakdown featuring a jaw harp, a harmonica, and some heavy vocoding, because why the hell not?

While it definitely seems a strange combination, fans of Sufjan Stevens will note that this almost seems like a logical step from the electronic insanity of 2010's Age of Adz. Beak & Claw is not quite up to snuff with the rest of Sufjan's output, but it is most definitely an enjoyable flight of fancy for the prolific songwriter and surely makes for a unique experience if nothing else. I'd like to see further output from s/s/s but a full-length album might seem like a chore to listen to; Beak & Claw was saved by its brevity. Don't be fooled, though. For a 20-minute affair, Beak & Claw manages to break plenty of ground and still craft something enjoyable.

Rating: 7.0/10
Standout Tracks:"Octomom", "If This Is Real"

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