Serpentwithfeet’s 2018 album, soil, felt like it was underwater — the listener drowned in layers of sound and heavy themes. Nevertheless, the music remained fluid. The final song, “bless ur heart,” was meant to transition to the first song of serpentwithfeet’s latest release, Deacon. The song thus marks a departure from the heartbreak into gratitude for lessons learned.
“Bless ur heart” also represents the desire that Josiah Wise, the musician behind serpentwithfeet, has for his queer identity to be remembered — to walk alongside him as part of his identity, but not to represent him entirely. “Hyacinth,” the first track off Deacon, honors Wise’s past lovers, but gives thanks to what has lead him to a new one, giving a nod to soil in the first line: “I think my green thumb has led me to a real one / So glad the soil has yielded something more than bad luck.” Deacon represents the springtime of Wise’s discography, short and sweet, honoring the many facets of intimacy and Black queer love.
A large influence on the album was the space in which it was created. In a recent interview with Stereogum, Wise spoke about his move from New York to Los Angeles following the release of soil: “I knew before moving here that I was going to make work that was softer. That was an intention I had. So when I moved out here, I was like, ‘Alright, time for the gentle shit.’”
This reflection of space gives the listener something to relate to in the album. For many, the past year has been about slowing down in the spaces we occupy and giving ourselves more moments in nature, whether that’s a simple walk around the block or a bike ride.
Three of the songs on the album are titled with the names of men, though Wise has said that these are all fictitious men. “Malik” represents a passing moment of attraction with a stranger — the feeling of seeing someone at a club or on the subway for a brief moment and thinking maybe this is the one, and then they’re gone. Wise immortalizes these strangers through a jumpy space that sounds like he’s dancing around the club: finding his Malik, before wandering off to some other stranger.
“Derrick’s Beard” represents a different facet of intimacy, and is an unusual moment of simplicity. After the lyrics, “I know you gotta be up early / And baby, I don’t wanna sound needy,” Wise’s angelic voice repeats, “Come over here, missing your beard.” The track becomes weightless, as the piano leaves and Wise’s voice fills the air.
“Heart Storm” is the centerpiece of the album. The track unfolds into a whirlwind of gentle sounds of Wise’s voice, and they swelter into a crescendo of sound that is almost reminiscent of his earlier work but still remains gentle. Singer NAO enters and makes this gentle storm smile, with the sweet touch of her voice and lyrics that bring a warmth: “My heart is thumpin’, thumpin’ / You know heaven’s up to something / Roses, tulips, daisies / All creation’s goin’ crazy.” The two present a lesson that’s hard to ignore: Let your ceiling shatter and let the sky fall on your love.
Serpentwithfeet comes up from underwater on Deacon and allows his softness to be seen under the sun. The album fits perfectly as the temporary ending to his discography, a reminder that heartbreak won’t last forever, and soon enough you will feel the air in your lungs and the sun on your face. The future is all his, wherever Wise goes next.
Daily Arts Writer Katy Trame can be reached at email@example.com.