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.