Eight years ago, Baroque pop singer Sufjan Stevens dropped Illinois, an album that charted on the Billboard 200 and earned such widespread critical praise for its breathtaking beauty that review aggregate site Metacritic designated it “universally acclaimed.” Back then, it would’ve been difficult to imagine him having anything to do with eccentric rap label Anticon, but somehow that happened, and now we’ve got Beak & Claw. s / s / s is Sufjan with wry rapper Serengeti and electronics maestro Son Lux, an unexpected collaboration, but not as jarring as Kanye West recording with Bon Iver, that’s for sure.
Though only four songs, this EP covers a lot of sonic territory and a wide range of emotions. Ambitious six-minute opener and single “Museum Day” begins with an Auto-Tuned Sufjan before Geti cuts in with a dark deadpanned rap over Son Lux’s beats and ends in a orchestral flurry of crashing symbols. Though Sufjan’s vocals are the focus of most of the attention surrounding this song, it’s really Serengeti’s rhymes—often nostalgic, usually bittersweet, and always witty—that are the heart of the track and Beak & Claw as a whole.
“Beyond Any Doubt” is easily the strongest production of the four, pairing Serengeti’s storytelling process with his collaborators’ deep grooves and a killer pop hook that’ll get stuck in your head for days. Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond—also a Sufjan Stevens/Decemberists collaborator—lends bluesy guest vocals to the chorus of “If This Is Real”, while Doseone (Subtle, Themselves) makes an appearance on “Octomom”, a song he co-produced about that infamous mother of eight, with his voice paired with Sufjan’s on the hook. A largely spoken track with a more humorous theme, “Octomom” is the odd one out, but only in the context of the rest of the EP; if you know Serengeti, you know his raps can be as playful as they are poignant. An odd mix of personalities and musical styles, but somehow s / s / s works, and the result is something quite beautiful.
Essential Tracks: “Beyond Any Doubt”