Mar 25, 2021
By Mark Moody
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. Or as Wise puts it on shimmery lead single, “Fellowship,” he’s experiencing the “blessing of my 30s.” Whether it’s maturity, finding true love, or a move to the West Coast, DEACON’s disposition is perennially sunny with little effort put to questioning the outcome.
The only ounce of doubt that creeps into the album’s contents is a sweetly scented line from the opening track, “Hyacinth.” On the lushly produced pop tale of magical realism, Wise reflects, “I began to believe nature’s magic was reserved for bees.” But as the flower of the title becomes man, all other concerns are swept away. Couplings of songs celebrate chance encounters, like the doo-wop falsetto of “Malik,” paired up against the sultrier R&B of “Amir.” And while “Sailor’s Superstition” preaches restraint in public affection, the following duet with NAO, “Heart Storm,” declares being out in the open the only way.
But the hallmarks of the album come in two songs where Wise gets more into relationship specifics. The breezy “Same Size Shoe” is a celebratory call and response in honor of a couple’s uniformity, where Wise’s supple upper register wraps around vocally trumpeted notes. And the grittier toned “Wood Boy” is both frank in its sexuality, but also spiked with playful asides: “I’m gonna need some jazz after this.” Albums that go out of their way to extol the virtues of being in love are no doubt scarce and a challenge to pull off. That Wise conquers this within his own experience as a young gay Black man puts him at the front of the room, where the deacons sit. (www.serpentwithfeet.bandcamp.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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