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By This 'Beak And Claw,' A Trio Shall Synthesize

May 23, 2012
Originally published on May 23, 2012 10:55 pm

Sufjan Stevens is a classically trained singer-songwriter whose recent work has leaned symphonic. Son Lux is a classically trained beatmaker whose solo albums do indeed evoke luxury. Serengeti is a self-trained rapper who creates voices for a panoply of full-fledged characters who range from scufflers to yuppies. Billed as s / s / s, this ad hoc trio has just released an EP called Beak and Claw that somehow synthesizes their specialties.

Of these three collaborators, Serengeti is my favorite as a solo artist; I love his droll dramatic imagination. But because s / s / s really is a collaboration, on Beak and Claw the mumbly rapping style he often employs for his artier characters is exploited as much for its down-to-earth musicality as for its verbal content. On the EP's opener, "Museum Day," his vocal undercuts the gloss of Stevens' Auto-Tuned prologue and Son Lux's shimmering beats.

If Beak and Claw has a dramatic preoccupation, it's the lifestyles of the arty middle class. Several such creations traipse through the EP, nowhere more revealingly than in "Beyond Any Doubt." Serengeti's character claims certainty, Stevens' character admits uncertainty, and neither seems altogether on top of his own reality as Lux mixes spooky keyboard textures with happy ones behind them both.

It may seem like a strange thing to say about a record that's only 20 minutes long, but Beak and Claw really should be heard as a whole. My experience with this download-and-vinyl-only EP befits the classical training of two members of s / s / s: It ebbs and flows best as a total composition. Sometimes it makes me laugh, because Serengeti's sense of humor is integral to everything he does. But mostly it's just kind of beautiful.

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What happens when you add up the talents of an indie rock singer, a rapper and a musician known for electronic soundscapes? You get a group called s/s/s. And our critic Robert Christgau says they sound surprisingly unified.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU, BYLINE: Sufjan Stevens is a classically trained singer-songwriter whose recent work has tended symphonic. Son Lux is a classically trained beatmaker whose solo albums do indeed evoke luxury. Serengeti is a self-trained rapper who creates voices for a panoply of full-fledged characters who range from scufflers to yuppies. Billed as s/s/s, this ad hoc trio has just released an E.P. called "Beak & Claw" that somehow synthesizes their specialties.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OCTOMOM")

S/S/S: (Singing) Oh, it's (unintelligible) with the octomom. Do you feel? I'll pick you up around 6:00. Like I do? Do you feel like I do, like I do? I had the night of my life. I had the night of my life. I had the night of my life.

CHRISTGAU: Of these three collaborators, Serengeti is my favorite as a solo artist. I love his droll dramatic imagination. But because s/s/s really is a collaboration, on "Beak & Claw," the mumbly rapping style he often employs for his artier characters is exploited as much for its down-to-earth musicality as for its verbal content. Hear how his vocal undercuts the gloss of Stevens' "Auto-Tuned" prologue and Son Lux's shimmering beats on the E.P.'s opener, "Museum Day."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSEUM DAY")

S/S/S: (Rapping) Dinosaur museum day. Follow me to different wings. We were supposed to be the kings, but we were doing dope too much. Now, we take jumbo jets, fly above the hinterlands. German like Wallendorf, well enough to paint a wharf. We made it, baby. Gothic wooden churches, vistas full of daisies. We can feel ourselves' codependence poking through lapels, sharp like a sweater vest. Together like (unintelligible). Winter in Caledonia. I can't believe we were such a mess.

CHRISTGAU: If "Beak & Claw" has a dramatic preoccupation, it's the lifestyles of the arty middle class. Several such creations traipse through the E.P., nowhere more revealingly than on "Beyond Any Doubt." Serengeti's character claims certainty, Stevens' character admits uncertainty, and neither seems altogether on top of his own reality as Lux mixes spooky keyboard textures with happy ones behind them both.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEYOND ANY DOUBT")

S/S/S: (Singing) Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, I'd work it out. I'd have the world figured out beyond any doubt. Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, I'd work it out. I'd have the world figured out beyond any doubt. Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, I'd work it out. I'd have the world figured out beyond any doubt. Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, I'd work it out. I'd have the world figured out beyond any doubt. Hey...

CHRISTGAU: It may seem like a strange thing to say about a record that's only 20 minutes long, but "Beak & Claw" really should be heard as a whole. The snatches I've played suggest its various flavors, but my experience with this download-and-vinyl-only E.P. befits the classical training of two members of s/s/s: It ebbs and flows best as a total composition.

CORNISH: The album from s/s/s is called "Beak & Claw." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEYOND ANY DOUBT")

S/S/S: (Singing) Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, I'd have the world figured out beyond any doubt. Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, what it was all about, I'd have the world figured out beyond any doubt. Hey, if I could figure out what it was all about, I'd make it out. I'd have the world figured out...

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