serpentwithfeet - born Josiah Wise - made heartbreak his own with debut EP 'blisters' and 2018's full-length 'soil', subverting matters of the heart into a primordial, fervent and intense concoction. A few years on, serpent brings forth 'DEACON', a body of work deliberate in its exploration of the breadth and depth of Black queer love, but also the pledges made through platonic relationships and chosen families. "This is the blessing of my thirties, spending less time worrying," serpent, 32, sings on 'Fellowship', the Sampha and Lil Silva-assisted single, a tender chronicle of mutuality and permanency he experienced when he moved from New York to LA.
DEACON, while remaining excellently Black, and powerfully Queer, contains within its songs messages that are universal in the truest sense - each speaking to the experiences of all who have ever known what it is to love and be loved. Where Wise's first album under his creative moniker, soil, was a rich, baroque treatise on loves losses, DEACON is its blood-red, heart-bursting opposite in the very best way. From the opener "Hyacinth", to the closer "Fellowship", we see an artist revelling in the unlimited potential of their songwriting craft.
When Josiah Wise's gothic gospel project serpentwithfeet first appeared in 2016, its atmospheres were decidedly dank. His debut EP, blisters, produced with the grim electronic composer Haxan Cloak, had the foreboding of a horror movie and the fearsomeness of scripture. The first lyrics we heard through his silken falsetto were hair-raising: "It's cool with me if you want to die," he cooed on "four ethers," "And I'm not going to stop you if you try." The production was similarly unnerving; the story of serpentwithfeet felt deliberately written with gruesomeness lurking around every corner.
On Josiah Wise's second full length release as serpentwithfeet, conflicts are set aside in a simple celebration of Black queer relationships. And namely his own. Wise's debut, soil, grappled with his religious upbringing as the album's gospel tinged harmonies and choruses clashed against a percussive backdrop. For the slyly titled DEACON, Wise is every bit in charge, but with a cooly confident stride.
Tenderly embracing his lover in matching white shirts on a sun dappled beach, the cover of serpentwithfeet's new album teases both a form of artistic rebirth and emotional wedlock for the Los Angeles based musician. Choosing to drop his birth name and be known purely as serpent, the former Baltimore troubadour is vibrantly fixing a new identity for himself with the songs that make up DEACON and it is a joyous one that casts a rosy glow. The palette of nervous indulgences that characterised his debut Soil and those early ritualistic live shows carries no weight here.