In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down and repeat. Despite finding success at the top of the mountain, he saw it crumble away as the boulder rushed back to the starting point.
Maybe, in an abstract way, that’s what musical group Sisyphus goes for in their new self-titled album.
The trio consisting of Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux and Serengeti all got together in 2012 under the name s/s/s to make their first EP, “Beak and Claw.”
It’s a good guess that the guys chose to change their name to “Sisyphus” because it has three S’s in it (and it kind of sounds like “s/s/s”), but there is more to it than that. Like the poor Greek guy pushing his boulder, the band uses repetition to its advantage, weaving storytelling and genres together into an eclectic, mashed-up musical tale.
The first clear example of Sisyphus’ reiteration hides between the second and third songs on the album: “Take Me” and “Booty Call.”
“Take Me” drifts in and out of lyrics whooshing “I wanna be your friend,” repeated over and over, in this electronic, dream-like song. It seems very different at first from the faster-paced, rap-based “Booty Call.” But at the end, lingering over the electronic beat, over the rapped lyrics, a soft repetition of the “I wanna be your friend” melody interrupts.
To me, it sounded like a relationship that messed up, and this was the singer’s form of compromise—to be friends afterwards.
Admittedly, however, it could be about a lot of things. Lyrics also leaned toward intoxication, a theme that recurs in later songs. Plus, the chaotic twist between three vying musical forms (rap, indie and electronic) almost made each song feel like the artists were torn between desires and fears.
…So, really, the album could have been about all these themes at once.
When “Rhythm of Devotion” came on, it was easy to think about the relationship theme again. “This is how I want to love you/ with an open heart/ and an open hand,” reverberates an idea of new beginnings. Perhaps it’s a new relationship starting after the breakup. Which makes sense, with the repeating “I feel more comfortable now” phrase over techno cascades.
Things take a dark turn in “I Won’t Be Afraid,” where layered, shimmering cymbals, piano melody and ever-steady beats combine. Lyrics like “I’m prepared for death/ I won’t be afraid,” and “I will give it up/ I won’t make a mess/ I won’t try too hard/ I won’t be afraid” seem to point in the direction of inner turmoil.
This is all reiterated with the lyrics “I am hardly hanging on,” repeated in both “Dishes in the Sink” and “Hardly Hanging On.” And then the final song, “Alcohol,” finishes it all off by trying to explain what’s actually going on. The robotic sounds in the background and constant, thumping lyrics make Serengeti sound like a robot.
Plus, the whole damn album ends with a repeating phrase of “I am not my father.” Hi, Sigmund Freud.
That’s not to say it’s just a philosophical or psychological adventure. Some songs are kind of funky and not too depressing; “Sisyphus” as a whole is filled with beeps, jaw-dropping lyrics and whooshing indie flares. I guess the only beef I have with the album is that all three artists are not truly enmeshed—instead of truly combining the musical styles, they seem a little taped-together. Serengeti will pass it off to Sufjan, and he’ll pass it off to Son Lux, and so forth.
Still, the trio defies the barriers of preconceived genres and moves together to tell an inspiring tale.