BY FRED MILLS
Indie supergroup Sisyphus is making its mission to junk the “supergroup equation,” which in the past has generally held fast. Time was, you could predict such an outfit’s sound using a sum-of-the-parts calculation: it wasn’t much of a stretch to guess, say, the direction Crosby, Stills & Nash would take; or for that matter, West, Bruce & Laing; or Blind Faith; or even—gulp—Asia or Damn Yankees. But Sisyphus, comprising avant-folkster Sufjan Stevens and hip-hoppers Son Lux (a/k/a Ryan Lott) and Serengeti (David Cohn), is an excursion into dense, complex electronica only hinted at in each artist’s projects. And even if familiar elements do crop up over the course of this clear-vinyl double album—in particular, most of the vocals are rapped—Sisyphus is ultimately as off the wall a release as you’ll likely encounter this year.
Preceded by a 2012 EP, the trio’s full-length debut was commissioned by Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series for an exhibition highlighting visual artist Jim Hodges, who contributed three works for the album’s outer and interior covers. It’s a dark—at times downright bleak—set, recalling the Bristol-spawned trip-hop of Massive Attack and Tricky and sifting through disorienting layers of minimalist, abstract beats surrounded by oddly compelling melodies. One moment the listener is assaulted by abrupt bursts of noise (“Rhythm of Devotion”); the next, soothed by an almost gospel-like reverie (“I Won’t Be Afraid”); and the next, seduced by a disco-tilting foray into funk (“Lion’s Share,” boasting the chant dance, dance, dance). It’s a feeling of dislocation that ultimately pays off by giving way to a deep sense of having been taken upon a sonic journey.
Consumer note: buy the vinyl edition as it is pressed on beautiful clear wax.
DOWNLOAD: “I Won’t Be Afraid,” “Lion’s Share”