REVIEW: s / s / s – Beak & Claw EP

Ever since Age of Adz came out, I had a feeling that things could only get crazier for Sufjan Stevens; I just never anticipated just how crazy we were talking. s / s / s is a new project born from three very different musicians’ desires to make music together. Each ‘s’ in question here refers to a different artist – indie darling Sufjan Stevens, rapper Serengeti and classically trained composer/producer Son Lux. It’s a bold new direction and together they create music that is quite unlike almost anything else I have heard recently. The three distinct musical directions each individual possess meld together in a surprisingly succinct way. Beak & Claw is a fleeting but utterly unforgettable EP.

Stevens‘ vocals on the EP have taken lead from the more… auto-tuned moments of Age of Adz, (a la Impossible Soul) in a way that masks just how accomplished his voice is naturally. The digitization of his vocals would sound out of place in any other environment, but hearing it echo throughout the jungle of techno blips, berserk violin and witty verses makes it feel almost natural.

EP opener ‘Museum Day‘ greets you with Sufjan‘s Distinct vocals wailing ‘I don’t want resistance / put your hands in fire / realise, realise energy is only meant to burn a while‘, in a sincere, captivating manner. The 6-minute song is the slowest and deceptively simple song on the EP, but that’s all relative. On the track, Serengeti tells tales about pastimes filled with intricate details; about visiting dinosaur museums, stealing money from his sister and the like. His relaxed rhyming style and wry lyricism carry the song well before Sufjan chimes in again. Swooping violins and clattering cymbals mark Son Lux‘s impact. “I am recolouring“, repeats Stevens throughout. This is a song of redemption and the heavenly backing vocals towards the end have a heavenly ambience to them.

Beyond Any Doubt” showcases Serengeti‘s technique and flow as a rapper and he takes centre stage. It’s no mean feat to outshine a musician like Sufjan Stevens, but on this track he totally does. The song ends with a crescendo of warping, dub-infused synths and electro drum samples. “If This Is Real” sees further collaboration; this time with Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond lending female vocals to the mix; another box checked, then. Worden is no stranger to collaborating with Sufjan Stevens, having contributed vocals throughout The Age of Adz, and her voice helps the EP move in yet another direction to the rest of the EP.

Son Lux provides the EP with dense and highly technical production. This is felt more than anywhere on closing track ‘Octomom‘, where the glitchy distortion rips through the track and random blips and bleeps plague the track. Just as the myriad of elements become too much, the track breaks down to form a decidedly aborigines vibe, complete with mouth harps and harmonicas. Stevens manipulates the simple phrase “I had the time of my life” throughout in a infectious way.

If I could say anything negative about Beak & Claw, it would be that it feels a little too overwhelming to take in all at once. There’s so many things going on at once throughout that it suffers from the kitchen sink approach, frankly, it’s all a little bonkers. It’s almost like Sufjan Stevens thought “right, I’m an accomplished singer songwriter, I can compose staggering musical arrangements, what can I do next…?” and thus looked towards Serengeti and Son Lux to further boost his musical versatility and… oddness. In anyone else’s hands, NONE of this would work. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t. But it does.

Though it only lasts 18 minutes, s / s / s certainly leave quite an impression on the listener with their debut EP. On paper, it’s a collaboration that would never work, but the three manage to pull their respective expertise together to create something rather unique and wonderful. The brief running time of the EP means that there’s never a dull moment and it rewards the listener more and more with every replay. I just hope that this collaboration continues in the future. The world needs more of this kind of weirdness.

9/10

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