Release Date: Mar 18, 2014
Record label: Asthmatic Kitty
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra who was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action forever. Naming your group after such a guy is going to lead to an array of raised eyebrows, scratched chins and analogies. Made up of Anticon rapper Serengeti, producer Son Lux and whispering wordsmith Sufjan Stevens, this indie supergroup have created an album of deadpan narration and satirical outputs that, when teamed with their inspiration, New York installation artist Jim Hodges, puts it firmly into the forefront of modern day reflection.
“Interesting” is probably the most ambiguous word in music journalism. It can mean anything, from a cop-out to avoid more deeply describing something, to a loaded derogation, to a placeholder word used to describe some ephemeral emotion when the thesaurus fails to provide. Try it with the phrase, “Sisyphus’ self-titled debut full-length is the most interesting pop release of 2014 thus far.” What definition comes to mind? Sisyphus is a supergroup whose musically disparate members include hip-hop artist Serengeti, multi-genre spanning musician Son Lux, and insane baroque popper/art rocker Sufjan Stevens.
Some collaborations are so bizarre that they just have to work. Sisyphus (formerly S / S / S) is a collaborative project between heartthrob and all around adorable indie troubadour Sufjan Stevens, frighteningly talented producer Son Lux, and criminally underrated avant-rapper Serengeti. Coming from three wildly different musical backgrounds, the trio have somehow found a way to make their blend of expansive elegance, experimental production, and surreal lyricism to work superbly well.With vocal duties shared between all three members, the record continually shifts between elegantly composed indie, and challenging hip-hop that refuses to abide by any structural rules.
On ‘Sisyphus’ Sufjan Stevens, New York post-rock musician Son Lux and Chicago rapper Serengeti set out to discover if their varying sounds could possibly interbreed. They produce pretty mutations; their first collaborative record throws up a mix of stuttering electro-rap and ethereal pop. Opener ‘Calm It Down’ bounces with the leftfield cool of LCD Soundsystem while ‘Booty Call’ puts Serengeti centre stage, adroitly merging the worlds of casual sex and gaming in the line “let me be your Call Of Duty”.
Formerly known as s/s/s, and comprised of Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and Serengeti, Sisyphus' eponymous debut was commissioned by the Walker Art Center and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music series to pair with a retrospective of artist Jim Hodges..
Head here to submit your own review of this album. One mistake you could make about Sisyphus is going into it expecting it sound like one of its constituent parts. It actually blends together contributions from Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and Serengeti, in an unexpectedly coherent way. However, the place I found myself consistently at with Sisyphus was that, although I could see what was going on, it wasn't always clear why.
On paper, Sisyphus appear incongruent. Anticon rapper Serengeti functions as the deadpan narrator, Sufjan as the whisper-drive balladeer, and Ryan Lott under his Son Lux guise as the anxious, industrial beatsmith. These three distinct talents are, in a sense, insoluble, but their electro-focused sound works when their synapses fire off of each other and the ideas dovetail and blend together.
When the trio of rapper Serengeti, electronic artist Son Lux, and singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens first appeared in 2012, they tested the waters with a four-song EP under the moniker s / s / s. It was an unusual and unexpected collaboration, and one they apparently enjoyed enough to warrant a second release, this time offering a full-length LP under the new band name Sisyphus. Cross-genre collaboration projects such as this are usually a mixed bag of results and Sisyphus is no different.
One of the more restless creative souls of our times, Sufjan Stevens must exhaust completists. Since his last album proper, 2010’s stunning Age Of Adz, Stevens has released a five-album set of Christmas songs, collaborated on a classical song-cycle with Nico Muhly and The National’s Bryce Dessner, and recorded a single with Rosie Thomas. Most recently, he’s turned his attention to Sisyphus, an electronic supergroup formed with producer and composer Son Lux and rapper Serengeti.
Were the sessions for Sisyphus like eternally rolling a boulder up a hill? Were the egos at work between Sufjan Stevens, Chicago-based Anticon rapper Serengeti, and NYC producer Son Lux akin to the hubris displayed by the band’s namesake? Two years ago, when the same trio made the lackluster but inoffensive Beak & Claw EP in 2012, they went simply by s/s/s. The change in moniker is noteworthy, and it engenders questions. If the album they’ve recorded in the subsequent year and a half were the sonic equivalent of the frustrating tedium of Sisyphus’ boulder, then the move would be both self-flagellating and hilarious.
Originally conceived as a small scale follow-up to their 2012 EP Beak & Claw, the full length, self-titled debut album from hip-hop, alt-electronica collective Sisyphus arrived in March of this year with little to no fanfare. Considering the talent, it’s all rather puzzling. Previously named s/s/s, baroque pop artist Stevens, Chicago rapper Serengeti and New York City electronic musician Son Lux formed this unlikely supergroup at the beginning of the decade, as a sort of mutual admiration society.
Indie supergroup Sisyphus is making its mission to junk the “supergroup equation,” which in the past has generally held fast. Time was, you could predict such an outfit’s sound using a sum-of-the-parts calculation: it wasn’t much of a stretch to guess, say, the direction Crosby, Stills & Nash would take; or for that matter, West, Bruce & Laing; or Blind Faith; or even—gulp—Asia or Damn Yankees. But Sisyphus, comprising avant-folkster Sufjan Stevens and hip-hoppers Son Lux (a/k/a Ryan Lott) and Serengeti (David Cohn), is an excursion into dense, complex electronica only hinted at in each artist’s projects.
YG, My Krazy LifeWhen you think about it, YG’s My Krazy Life shouldn’t be as fully formed as it actually comes out to be. YG, before this year, had one kinda hit in 2009’s “Toot It and Boot It” and fit comfortably into the role of one of many a West Coast Rapper that really didn’t have a prominent opening in the past decade’s rap council. Still, with the help of collaborator DJ Mustard, YG’s commercial debut is a wonderfully visceral surprise, whose individual strengths culminate to form a powerful, impressive whole.
s/s/s, as the collaboration between Chicago rapper Serengeti, New York producer Son Lux and serial project starter Sufjan Stevens was originally called, felt uncomfortably close to supergroup parody when they emerged as a trio in 2012. Never mind a gathering of disparate stars in search of new chemistry; apparently the only prerequisite for a team-up these days is an unlikely gathering of names starting with S. In fairness though, despite the ghosts of failed supergroups hanging over the whole endeavour, there’s more common ground between the three main players of Sisyphus, as they now go by, than might be immediately obvious.