“Sisyphus” is the self-titled debut from the group formerly known as S/S/S, a collaboration between singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, producer Son Lux, and rapper Serengeti. The album was commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to accompany the opening of a new exhibition by visual artist Jim Hodges. Although they worked independently, Sisyphus took a trip to Hodges’ studio and referred to his work throughout the recording process, and it’s a Hodges piece displayed on the front of the record. The band chose the cover because it screams disco and party, feelings they wanted to cultivate throughout the record.
Hodges’ untitled-but-subtitled “scratched sky” series is the perfect visual representation of what’s happening on this album. He has taken breathtaking pictures of sunsets, clouds and skylines and then added long, frantic scratches overtop of the image, exposing the fragility and imperfection beneath. Musically, Sisyphus is a party record, complete with house beats and catchy hooks that will probably end up being heard in frat houses across the country. However, the lyrics beneath the glitz and glam of the music discuss divorce, addiction and twisted love in a dark, direct fashion.
The opening track “Calm it Down” is an invitation of sorts to relax, put down your phone and really listen to what’s happening. The band wants your full attention, and will test it with the longer, atmospheric tracks “Take Me” and “I Won’t Be Afraid” featuring Sufjan Stevens. While the first half of the album features some shorter, more straightforward songs (“Booty Call”) and the incredibly catchy “Rhythm of Devotion,” the latter half turns darker with “Dishes in the Sink” and “Hardly Hanging On.” These two songs run together, acting as one eight-minute track about divorce and dealing with the choices we make, ending with 30 seconds of dissonant buzzing that sends you into the next track unsettled.
Throughout the album, there is a sharp juxtaposition between the carefree, party vibe of the music and the naked intimacy of the lyrics. The closing track, “Alcohol”, is a prime example. On the surface, it offers a repetitive and infectious dance beat that looks like glow sticks and smells like sweat. However, when put in context with dark lyrics about an inherited cycle of addiction, the two-minute loop in the middle of the track becomes much more than a repetitive beat. It feels wrong to dance while Serengeti is offering brutal honesty and the throbbing bass starts to feel dirty as you become addicted to the groove, caught in a never-ending cycle. In a way, this is Sisyphus if his boulder was covered in gold, which is an idea realized in one of Jim Hodges’ exhibition pieces. This idea is echoed musically throughout the record, that no matter how enticing it may be, underneath the gold surface the boulder is still just a dirty rock. While Sisyphus may have set out to make a party record, they ultimately created something underneath that is much deeper and more satisfying than a collection of dance tunes could ever offer.
4 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW:’Rhythm of Devotion’