Josiah Wise (aka serpentwithfeet) has been working on experimental pop and soul since 2014, his debut album, 2018’s soil, was a beautiful and abstract Gospel soul pop meeting of minds of sad and broken same sex love songs, and one of the best of that year, and today’s sophomore album Deacon replays the sound though brighter, lighter and more magical. It should be a top album of 2021.
Josiah uses electronica for sound, and his voice for voice, and he puts them together of this at some times unbearably lovely collection, “Hyacinth,” “Same Size Shoe” and “Heartstorm” are quiet storms that seem to start from a semblance of Smokey and move luxurious to a triumph of love and desire over spirituality, and modern pop electronica abstractions that never go too far. The Baltimore born Josiah is the son of the son of a Christian bookstore and a choir director, and music, Gospel music, is his anchor. Deacon has Gospel to spare yet it isn’t anything like Gospel Music except obtusely, like the vocal on “Derrick’s Beard”, it is a mix of the overtly experimental on the unmoored Wood Boy” and the covertly pop on the bop “Fellowship”.
While soil was darker and deeper, perhaps more spiritual, Deacon has a defter touch. If you go back to the 2016 EP blister “the hole in my belly has started growing” and the strings soar in gothic dire, on Deacon Josiah that is a form of taking a deep breath and embracing romance that makes the album almost levitate with a joy in sex and love as, if not a substitute for Christianity, a variant on how love emerges. It takes the small joy of discovering you have the same size shoe as your lover and turns it into a creation of serendipity and miracle, Wise can’t be more gloriously sharing.
I can’t say whether this will break pop, it should but I wonder if the notoriously homophobic black pop market can accept it. Certainly, from the the three songs named for male lovers, to the platonic joy of the albums last song, this is a triumph of love as spiritual solution as clear as the album’s name, and the first great album of 2021. I mean really, should he have called it Pastor?
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