PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Sisyphus: Sisyphus

Baroque pop artist Sufjan Stevens, Chicago rapper Serengeti and New York City electronic musician Son Lux formed this unlikely supergroup at the beginning of the decade.


Sisyphus

Sisyphus

Label: Asthmatic Kitty
US Release Date: 2014-03-18
UK Release Date: 2014-03-17
Website
Amazon
iTunes

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. When the LP was announced, the question remained whether the trio’s artistic appreciation for one another was enough to keep the project afloat. It appears not.

The result is an engaging, yet wildly uneven, 11-track album that occasionally congeals despite itself. Songs are often linked with one another through resurfacing melodic themes, yet coherence is often sacrificed for experimentation. Instead of occupying the same creative space, their disjointed collaboration somewhat dilutes what made each of them so interesting to begin with. Son Lux has been relegated to the roll of background-beat liaison between the other two talents, yet his personality rarely surfaces and he seldom succeeds in assisting either artist find a creative middle-ground. After listening to the album, one has to ask where the Ryan Lott of Lanterns and We Are Rising disappeared to? The same could be said of Anticon staple Serengeti. It’s hard to believe this is the same MC who delivered those innovative, sharp as a blades rhymes on last year’s Kenny Dennis LP. That’s not to say it’s entirely a failed alliance. There are moments of clever inspiration scattered across the record, but they are a rarity.

The 2012 EP was but a tease, albeit an admirable one, with My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden guesting, as well as a contribution from Anticon label-founder Doseone. Things have moderately changed since then. Gone is the egregious auto-tune that marred the initial release and the potentially offensive name, one that recalled both the Nazi Schutzstaffel, or SS, and the Japanese SSS, or Skinhead Samurai Spirit. The project reconvened last year with a commission by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music series, to accompany visual artist Jim Hodges' latest exhibition Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take.

Stevens said of the collaboration, "We have so little in common but we have deep love for each other and we are pushing that stone together," alluding to Hodges’s gold and steel-clad boulders, the creative process of crafting the LP, and the Greek mythological tale the band references with their new name. With a connection to the art world and such an abundance of talent, it appeared everything was aligned for success. The new LP hints at what could have been, while delivering the goods sparingly. In the end, the album poses more questions than it answers.

Should the songs of Sisyphus be taken seriously, or is this all but some mere, tongue-in-cheek joke, as titles like "Booty Call", "Alcohol", and "Dishes in the Sink" seem to intimate? It’s definitely less Weird Al and Tenacious D and more Flight of the Conchords, but if this is a comedic album, it doesn’t really succeed. It’s all a bit of a polite chuckle and less of a full-on guffaw. They might have had a great time collaborating, but was there enough substance here to warrant a full length effort instead of another EP? While Beak & Claw showed signs of potential, it hasn’t been fully realized on Sisyphus. Like a jazz trio, each artist is given a moment in the spotlight to flex their individual talents with a solo interlude, but then the musical conversation seemingly comes to a halt. When they are on point though, the record is entertaining as all hell.

"Lion’s Share" places Serengeti’s deft conversational style of rapping front and center, with Son Lux dropping a ripe, head-bouncing beat in the background. The song references the 2012 prison break of convicts Joseph "Jose" Banks and Kenneth Conley from Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, although the facts have been altered a bit to suit the rhymes. The skittering beats underpinning the haunting "Take Me" accentuate the erotic beauty of Sufjan’s simple melody. With Serengeti nowhere to be found, the song breathes, unencumbered by the awkwardness an unnecessary rap interlude that would disrupt the mood. "Rhythm of Devotion" is the perfect synthesis of all three artists’ strengths. Immensely catchy and confident, the six-minute track is one of the album’s centerpieces. The driving, sexy delivery of mechanical album closer "Alcohol", displays the virtuosity of Serengeti’s rhyming skills, as he spews off a rapid-fire list of subjects encompassing everything from addiction to hollow sexual encounters. If only the rest of the album were as strong.

The scent of Steven’s chamber pop personality can be witnessed in the string section that pops up in "Flying Ace" and the woodwind and piano textures of "My Oh My", but they are all but fleeting moments. In the latter track, what does any of the lyrical nonsense mean, when Serengeti says, "Me and the wife and the kids up in the Acura / Happy as a bug in a rug, a clam in a dog / A pig in a log, a frog in a shark." Really now, that’s all he could conjure up? The infantile rhymes of "Booty Call" reference video game platforms and sex in way that seems odd coming from an adult, let alone a rapper of Serengeti’s talent, with lines like "Beauty, computy let me see that booty / Let me be your Call of Duty" and "Singing opera, candelabra/ ima get a condom, put it on my Mazda." These lines don’t exactly shout lyrical genius. Son Lux delivers some excellent low-end beats, but when paired with Serengeti’s rhymes they often prove too angular and awkward, in a way that his solo works never seem to highlight. Opener "Calm It Down" appears to wander on forever, lyrically boiled down to the three words of its title without expanding much upon that. It was a poor choice to kick off the collection of songs.

Opposites attract but rarely stay together, or so the saying goes. In the case of Sisyphus, the trio’s longevity will all depend on how commercially successful this full length release turns out to be for them and whether they feel they've exhausted their artistic chemistry or not. The publicity wheel seemingly came to a grinding halt before it even started spinning a few months ago, so that doesn't bode well for the trio. As it stands, there’s some admirable genre-defying work to be heard across the album, even if the collaboration often borders on what feels like a supergroup parody.

There are occasional moments of inventiveness, but unfortunately, they are often marred by songs that often feel like they’re going to rend at the seams under the weight of too many ideas. In turn, those ideas are presented as fragments instead of fully developed musical thoughts. Great singles don't necessarily equate a great album. The surprisingly passé lyrical content is all rather much ado about nothing, and many of the tracks seem awkwardly patched together. Creatively muzzled, the three men seem to have admired each other’s talents, but never figured out how to collectively accentuate their artistic strengths. Ultimately, it feels as if the figurative boulder they pushed up the hill came rolling back down over their good intentions.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.