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s/s/s – Beak & Claw March 27, 2012

Posted by gwyoung in Album Reviews, Music.
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Artist: s/s/s

Album: Beak & Claw

Release: anticon., 2012

Genre: Experimental

RIYD: Age of Adz-era Sufjan, Serengeti, Son Lux, Discovery

If you’re a Sufjan fan who didn’t like Age Of Adz, then you will definitely hate this EP. If you’re not a fan of auto-tune, even when used artistically, you might consider looking for something else to listen to. But if you’re like me, and you’re one of the people whose favorite moment on Age Of Adz was about 12 minutes into “Impossible Soul” when Sufjan auto-croons about the “stupid man in the window”, then maybe you’ll appreciate when he pushes all of that crazy to the next level on Beak & Claw. Not only is his voice auto-tuned beyond the danger zone all throughout, but the EP further ventures from his orchestral synth-padding into outright art-rap/post-dubstep a la instrumental James Blake, with the saccharine elements of everything people hated about Discovery’s LP and Vampire Weekend’s Contra. I didn’t think anything could be more beautifully bonkers as Age of Adz, but on Beak & Claw, Sufjan really shows his Midas touch for thinking outside the box.

Which is not to say that s/s/s is all about Sufjan. In fact, Stevens might be the least present of all three s’s in the band name. The other two stand for Serengeti and Son Lux, two like-minded musicians signed to the similarly genre-bending rap label, anticon., and their verses and production (respectively) round out the trio by keeping things grounded, especially on the more dense opener “Museum Day”. Serengeti’s everyday character stylings sound more like a conversation than music, and Son Lux’s darker-leaning soundscapes provide a good counterpart for Sufjan’s bursting personality. The auto-tune is mostly reserved for processing Sufjan’s catchy yet off-kilter choruses, such as the “If I could figure out what it was all about, I’d work it out” round that comes at the end of the eerily wonky “Beyond Any Doubt”, and Serengeti’s normal-sounding voice and laid-back attitude strike a good balance. Long-time collaborator Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond even makes a special appearance, providing both the melody and harmony in the jazzy chorus of the choppy “If This Is Real”.

But the real show-stopper on Beak & Claw is the finale, “Octomom”, which amalgamates a hodgepodge of influences that shouldn’t work together on paper but somehow melt into a magnificent dance-rap anthem. The track alternates between the spastic chorus and Serengeti’s verses, describing his character’s evolving relationship with Nadya Suleman, the “octomom” with octuplets, in a less-than-enthused voice that gradually transforms into a vocoded android, Laurie Anderson-style. Meanwhile, Sufjan (and maybe Son Lux) are going back and forth between asking “do you feel like I do?” and exclaiming “I had the night of my life!”, then jamming on a harmonica for good measure during the grand finale, as if none of it seemed at all out of place. The ease at which the trio earnestly pulls off something so utterly bizarre never ceases to amaze me no matter how many times I listen to the track (and believe me, I’ve spun it quite a few times), and it’s this aspect of the EP that I would argue makes Beak & Claw one of this year’s best projects.

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1. The Top 20 Musical Releases of 2012 « safer in the dark - December 19, 2012

[…] unexpected projects, most of which involved extensive use of the increasingly polarizing auto-tune. Beak & Claw is the best and most underrated of these: a collaboration with rapper Serengeti and like-minded […]


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