(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )
Soil (2018), 6.5/10
Deacon (2021), 6.5/10

Serpentwithfeet, the project of New York's neosoul singer-songwriter Josiah Wise, debuted with the single Curiosity of Other Men (2014) and the five-song EP Blisters (2016), an exercise in orchestral pop which was de facto a collaboration with Haxan Cloak. The arrangements are more creative than the vocals. The seven-minute Blisters transitions from neoclassical orchestration to deafening multi-tracked vocals. Four Ethers samples Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" in one of the most original sample-based cases of pop music. The vocals are a compromise between Antony and classical soul crooning.

The album Soil (2018), mostly produced by Clams Casino and Katie Gately, is a breakup concept built around themes of queer love, a celebration of black gay love. Inevitably, most attention was devoted to the lyrics while the real attraction should have been his vocals, now matured into an unlikely hybrid of gospel singing and monastic chanting. Paul Epworth's arrangements sustain this blend in Invoice, which begins like funereal sacre music, almost a requiem, and ends like a vibrant church sermon over a beat that simulates hand-clapping. The crescendo of layered vocals evokes swampy plantations in Whisper even though he's shouting his love for a man. His trembling melisma has a devastating effect in Cherubim over Gately's warped soundscape. He reaches peaks of desperation in the ghostly Seedless and in the soaring Bless Ur Heart. The skeletal beats and minimal arrangements in songs like Wrong Tree let the subtleties of Wise's voice and self-created harmonies stand out and radiate emotional power.

The three-song EP Apparition (2020) contains his single A Comma. The brief album Deacon (2021), mostly produced by Sampha and Tyrone "Lil Silva" Carter, is a mellower work, replacing the desperation of the previous album with a sense of resignation and acceptance or even rebirth. The Caribbean-tinged Fellowship is the best display of his enchanted melisma, but no less elegant are the vocal harmonies of Hyacinth, arranged by guitarist Justus West and British dj Batu (Omar McCutcheon). Heart Storm, a duet with Neo "Nao" Joshua produced by Justus West, evokes Bjork's mix of oneiric and dramatic, while the smooth and catchy Sailors' Superstition flirts with mainstream pop. The mood of the album is perhaps best represented by the lethargic and anemic Amir, sculpted by Silva and Sampha with a ticking of guitar tones and puffs of synth. The one-minute intermezzos often work better than the proper songs, like the hypnotic gospel chant Derrick's Beard. It's another effective journey into the psyche of the artist, a self-portrait rich in audio nuances.

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