Josiah Wise or, known better as, Serpentwithfeet has been a part of a musical realm of oblique vocal deliveries over experimental R&B sounds that takes influence from sonic styles of varying eras of R&B. His debut, Soil, brought a lot of the nuances from these styles as he painted these elegant pictures with his songwriting and sultry falsetto. Coming off a few low profile releases and a beautiful duet with Ellie Goulding on her 2020 release Brightest Blue, he has come back with the followup to Soil, Deacon. Deacon brings forth a series of paintings that tell stories about love, religion, and identity, as Serpentwithfeet brings forth a strong fortitude in his thematic transitions, even when songs don’t leave the consistent impact that Soil did.
Deacon, instrumentally, softens the kind of approach Serpentwithfeet takes within layers of the sonic transitions allowing for experimental consistency, though experimental is a loose term here. The experimental aspects come from these unique ways the production incorporates both conventions of R&B styles, particularly the popular parts of the blue-y 90s and and the rhythm heavy 00s; as well as an occasional vocal-gospel inflection of some of the harmonizations. There are some nuances, too, to the stylistic focus behind the percussion heavy R&B of the 00s and the slow-somber guitar centric style of the 90s, which had more focus on the blues aspect of the anagram.
Serpentwithfeet brings varying aspects of both, usually individualized on each track – one or another. Other times he is finding a beautiful blend of the two, like on “Same Size Shoes.” The beautiful melodies of the idealistic happiness he sees in the similarities between him and his lover. The production has been a key element of Serpentwithfeet’s work as it lays with the direction of his content. On Soil, he laid a foundation of his being and on Deacon he reasons with love and reasons with doubt on the surface, with the grounded songwriting creating more underlying themes. It reflects well with the broken down instrumentations on certain songs, like on “Amir,” and “Malik,” which are a combination of these idyllic men he creates in his head.
Serpentwithfeet and his producers steer the ship through some decadent transitions from start to finish. But there are moments where a song feels like a stagnant pause with slight abruptness, like on “Dawn.” It feels like an interlude that does little to connect the dots, but it does transfer the dynamic to have some slight gospel and soul undertones to take command of some sonic moods. Similarly with “Derrick’s Beard,” an otherwise lovely interlude that feels displaced within the collection of tracks, with its somber like vocalization not mirroring what precedes and follows in conceptual mood.
“Sailor’s Superstition,” brings forth a smooth combination of soul and baroque pop textures on the R&B vocal-subtexts, which revolves around a tale about superstitions told about a commonality in relationships. Serpentwithfeet’s eloquent use of the sailor analogy, which refers to that of an attraction to opposite or in his case – same sex – person/object deterring ideas of internal happiness in this case, unlike sailors where it’d be more work related.
Throughout Deacon, you hear a consistency in the inflection of his vocals, as they breath essences of the choir like amplification of the harmonies and at times melodies. But as reliant an album has with creating transitioning cohesion, Deacon has more individualized standouts as opposed to one big lush project you can listen to from start to finish. “Fellowship,” which closes the album, encapsulates all these themes on the back burner and delivers a smooth dance track that doubles as an ode to the bond of friendships. It’s the only thematic outlier that flows well within the contexts of the album, Deacon.
Deacon is definitively a different album than Soil, but it shows a kind of maturity in both sound and style you tend to see with artists of his mental caliber. The music breathes a life all its own with the content being vibrantly drawn in our mind through the songwriting.