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The singer's latest project feels like the musical manifestation of intimacy

By Hilary Hughes
March 26, 2021 at 02:27 PM EDT
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serpentwithfeet
Credit: Braylen Dion

Soil, the 2018 debut from singer Josiah Wise, who performs as serpentwithfeet, was cerebral and fresh — a mesmerizing blend of haunting vocals, eclectic instrumentation, and vulnerable lyrics. His percussion lines hit the ear like a heartbeat, and his choruses were often meditative and chant-like, taking on the timbre of love spells. Passion fueled much of serpent's lyrics, but so did losing love and the mere threat of it, and the tone of the music responded in kind.

But where Soil embraced the discord of romantic entanglements, Deacon, its follow-up, is a celebration of the opposite: the comfort, light, and assurance that swells from deep connection. This was a deliberate choice, as serpentwithfeet intentionally turned his focus to unfurling intimacy in its many forms: his loving relationships with men and their evolution, as well as the familiar embraces of companionship.

Voices harmonize in seraphic communion ("Dawn"), form a hushed and symbiotic Greek chorus ("Derrick's Beard"), and take on the triumphant quality of trumpets ("Same Size Shoe") and synths ("Sailors' Superstition"), as he sings about devotion with the gentleness of one whispering confessions right into your ear. Bass throbs throughout, but handclaps ("Malik") and vocalizations are all the percussion he needs at points; the shape and quality of breath itself is utilized as a beat, or hints at it, like on "Wood Boy," or "Old & Fine," where the echo after the snap of a finger sounds like a sigh. 

Friendship is honored here, too, on "Heart Storm," an evocative and moody duet with singer-songwriter Nao, and the uplifting grand finale, "Fellowship," which features Sampha and Lil Silva. As hand-thwacked drums and shakers keep time, the chorus carries a simple message, "I'm thankful for the love I share with my friends." Let Deacon be a reminder for gratitude: There's beauty everywhere, but especially in the moments when we savor those we love. A-

A version of this story appears in the April 2021 issue of Entertainment Weekly. To read more, order a copyor find it on newsstands now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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