The debut record from the hip hop trio featuring indie icon Sufjan Stevens and Anticon label mates Son Lux and Serengeti is a dreamy, atmospheric and often bizarre offering that's well worth your time and attention.
1. Calm It Down
2. Take Me
3. Booty Call
4. Rhythm of Devotion
5. Flying Ace
6. My Oh My
7. I Won't Be Afraid
8. Lion's Share
9. Dishes in the Sink
10. Hardly Hanging On
Running time: 51:31
Sisyphus is an alternative hip-hop collective I stumbled across last week while looking for some new rap or hip hop to listen to. What immediately drew me to the project was the involvement of indie darling Sufjan Stevens, known for his indie and baroque pop sensibilities. I've never been the guy's biggest fan but his involvement hear had me intrigued. Joining Stevens in the trio formerly known as S/S/S is Chicago-born rapper Serengeti, a member of the LA-based Anticon label, and Son Lux, another Anticon artist who's known more for his production skills and most recently his collaborations with Lorde. Prior to the name change the trio released a solitary EP to mixed reviews back in 2012, but now they come to the forefront with their first full length effort, the self-titled Sisyphus. For those who need a brush up on their Greek mythology, Sisyphus was the king punished for his hubris by being made to roll an enchanted boulder uphill, only for it to continually roll back down again time after time, condemning Sisyphus to a life of monotony. Thankfully, here's no such monotony on show here.
It's not unusual for these bizarre collaborative efforts to go awry. You merely have to look at this year's sophomore Broken Bells record that failed to leave an impression for an example of how sometimes the finished product isn't always greater than the sum of its part. And with three artists from three seemingly completely different backgrounds, no one would be surprised if this was an ill-advised record to make. And make no mistake, there are a number of mis-steps here. For the majority of the record's 50-minute running time however, we are treated to a diverse, multi-layered and colourful fusion of unstructured hip hop and subtle indie sensibilities. In addition the genre-bending nature of the record, all three individuals take equal responsibility for the album's vocals, resulting in an album that fails to tire. In fact, more often than not, Sisyphus soars to considerable heights.
What Sisyphus sometimes lacks in stand-out singles, it more than makes up for in mind-boggling ideas of an enigmatic variety. “Calm It Down” is the album's opening cut and also one of the most accessible, opening with bouncy drums before mesmerizing keys take over in the song's laid back chorus. “Take Me” continues the relaxing vibe with soothing synths creating vast soundscapes over which Stevens breathily paints vivd pictures with his lovelorn tale. “Booty Call” then, comes as something out of left-field as Serengeti lays some scandalous lines over an undeniable hip hop beat. Lyrically it's a shambles, but it's fun and it's care-free. “Rhythm of Devotion” is a wonderful merging of R&B and electro-pop, with some much more impressive delivery and couplets on show. “Flying Ace” is much more of a slow-burner but fails to do anything to stand out, though there's some intriguing ideas under the surface trying to break through, it would seem. “My Oh My” is another bouncy affair, as elaborate as anything any of these artists has done before, feeling like the crest of a wave.
The second half of the album is as much of a mix-match of styles as the first. Stevens takes centre stage on the hypnotic “I Won't Be Afraid,” another understated effort. “Lion's Share” features more questionable lyrics, but Serengeti generally brings the good with his flow here. The beat is gorgeous. “Dishes in the Sink” is more standard hip-hop fair until Stevens jumps in on the chorus, once again throwing the listener completely off. His ambient dreamscapes take over before returning to more straightforward hip hop. Stevens is almost effervescent on the dreamy “Hardly Hanging On,” his vocal floating over sullen, tingling hip hop beats. The album's closing number is “Alcohol,” a track that starts off with a driving hip hop beat, some pretty slick delivery from Serengeti. Some subtle keys lead you down an enlightened path to a gargantuan chorus before the delivery of the eyebrow-raising line “I'll suck out your dick with the devil's integrity,” leaving a peculiar lasting impression on the listener.
Sinister closing-lyric aside, Sisyphus have created an album that first and foremost, does not take itself particularly seriously. That's a good thing, because that means we don't have to either and instead we can simply enjoy it for what it is – three experimental artists putting their heads together and creating occasionally baffling, typically intriguing and always genre-bending alternative music that on some level, will appeal to most people. From the bouncy choruses to the understated electro-pop beats and hip hop charms, there's something for everyone here. In not putting too much pressure on the project, despite featuring one of the most critically acclaimed indie artists in contemporary music, the trio has created a charming and playful record that will find it's way on too numerous year-end lists. Sisyphus is a grower too, so give it multiple listens.
Sisyphus - “Calm It Down”
The 411: I didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I did. Listening to the self-titled debut album from hip hop collective Sisyphus was a strange yet rewarding way to spend 50 minutes of my time. If there's a flaw, it's in the record's lyrics, though these are rare moments. Do not go into Sisyphus expecting to hear a Sufjan Stevens record, because it's not. And don't go into expecting a standard hip hop record, because it's not. In fact, the best advice I could give you would be to go into this record head on with no expectations whatsoever and the chances are you'll lose yourself in it's beauty pretty quickly. You'd do well not to.