Stranger things have happened, but rarely do they make such beautiful music. The three esses that comprise the enigmatically titled s / s / s are as follows: Sufjan Stevens, he of the Fifty States Project and various baroque folk-pop opuses; Serengeti, the wry-witted rapper known for in-depth on-record character studies; and Son Lux, silken-voiced singer, studio wizard and singular beatsmith. The project’s roots reach back to 2009’s Dark Was the Night compilation, where Stevens and Geti met over a Buck 65 remix of a song written by psych-folkie Castanets. Continuing in the spirit of (unlikely) collaboration, the pair passed beats and raps back and forth, eventually enlisting Son Lux to dream Beak & Claw into fruition.
While this momentous EP comprises a mere four songs, each covers an immense stretch of sonic territory and emotional range. At six minutes, “Museum Day” may be the most adventurous and also the most satisfying, opening with a swath of AutoTuned heartache courtesy of Stevens, cresting with the darkly detailed raps of Geti, and closing in a hail of crashing cymbals, orchestral glitch and haunted coos from Son Lux. “Beyond Any Doubt” exchanges that taut splendor for deeper grooves whose farthest-out moments bring to mind Shabazz Palaces’ cracked futurisms, albeit spiked with a falsetto’d pop hook. Fuzzy bass and industrial clang crash into lines about unrealized escapism and unpaid bills.
Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond lends “If This Is Real” its Andrews Sister-like chorus, an immaculate contrast to the aural chaos that eventually overtakes the song. Meanwhile, Doseone (Subtle, Themselves) lends a similar buoyancy to “Octomom,” an electro-spackled, mostly spoken piece that plays like a Laurie Anderson track for the reality television generation (also featuring jaw harp and harmonica by Ohio folk vet Hal Walker). Because of its subject matter, this final song goes a long way to illustrating Beak & Claw’s strange magic and, ultimately, why s / s / s works at all. Geti’s humor and humanity are matched by playfulness and poignancy every step of the way. In the end, sublime confluence prevails.