words by Eric Engelbart
Sufjan Stevens earned universal acclaim and a spot amongst indie royalty with his early discography, including fan favorites Seven Swans, Michigan, and Illinois. If there is one word to describe Sufjan, it’s ‘ambitious.’ As of recently, he has disappointed hipsters everywhere with consecutive misses, including the remarkably uninspired Age of Adz and the recently released four song collaboration entitled Beak and Claw from his collaboration with electronic maestro Son Lux and Anticon rapper, Serengeti.
Prior to the Age of Adz (excluding the electronic Enjoy Your Rabbit), Stevens’ sophistication was one of his music’s most appealing qualities. Recently, his work has devolved from sublime orchestral composition into a suburban interpretation of Kanye West.
The core aesthetic of Beak and Claw is a combination of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak and 13 & God’s eponymous 2007 release. While The Notwist’s and Anticon’s Themselves work on 13 & God achieved moments of brilliance that justified its existence, Beak and Claw rarely accomplishes that feat.
Throughout the four song’s of Beak and Claw, Sufjan’s once breathtakingly resplendent voice is mangled by Auto-Tune, while the instrumentation is chockfull of so many bells and whistles that it would make Pharrell proud.
Sufjan’s Achilles heel for much of his post-Illinois career has been his inability to write meaningful lyrics that aren’t based on non-fiction subject matter. Much like Age of Adz, Sufjan’s lyrical inadequacies are made painfully obvious on Beak and Claw. Sufjan croons lines on “Museum Day” with subject matter that would have fit well on the Terminator Salvation soundtrack. “Dream energy”…really?
Second track “Beyond Any Doubt” starts strongly, as Serengeti delivers his strongest verse of the album. However, when Sufjan’s Auto-Tuned voice takes over for the chorus, the song loses all of its momentum. Sufjan’s sugar-coated voice interjects the maddeningly simplistic line: “If I could figure out/ what it’s all about/ I’d work it out” ad nauseum.
The highpoint of the E.P is third track “Is This Real,” a song noticeably devoid of Sufjan’s voice. The chorus features My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, with Serengeti playfully flourishing on the track at the top of his game. Serengeti’s musings about marriage, cooking, and parenting in his verses provide the song with a strong and relatable backbone.
The low point of the album is closing track “Octomom,” an un-danceable dance anthem. The track is convoluted and features one of the worst drum-fills in recent memory, coupled with Sufjan’s repetitive robotic vocals and Serengeti’s hopeless attempts to add a layer of depth.
Beak and Claw is another mediocre and safe release from former fan favorite Sufjan Stevens. It is at best a lackluster reinterpretation of 13 & God, despite Serengeti’s best efforts. Hopefully the critical and public response to the album will inspire Sufjan to take his ambitious efforts in a different artistic direction.