Review: serpentwithfeet – DEACON
National Music Reviews
serpentwithfeet = Bilal + Frank Ocean
Serpentwithfeet’s newest album, DEACON, plays like the highlight reel of a relationship in the mind of a nostalgic lover. Signs and symptoms of heartbreak are left out entirely in favor of love’s blissful moments—the excitement of a developing crush, dancing together for the first time, the vulnerable rush of seeing and being seen. Because the album deliberately excludes descriptions of sorrow and suffering, DEACON feels like a courageous defector of the R&B genre. Sentimental reflection does not concern itself with emotional pain, and neither does DEACON. Instead, this music is a pure study of love’s glory, a sensuous ode to the delights of affection.
Though DEACON was recorded between Los Angeles and London, serpentwithfeet (born Josiah Wise) was inspired to write the album after moving from New York to Los Angeles. In his new environment, serpent found an energizing sense of serenity and a more straightforward approach to expression. All of this is apparent on DEACON. On several tracks, there is recurring lyrical imagery of two lovers laying in bed and quietly gazing at one another. From start to finish, lush and minimalist production matches the tranquil energy of the lyrics with precision.
On “Same Size Shoe,” serpent captures that “scream it from the rooftops” excitement of announcing romantic feelings to the world. In the chorus, a jubilant refrain repeats “Me and my boo wear the same size shoe / Boy, you got my trust ’cause I’m like you.” A modest drum loop and a sunlit piano melody offer accompaniment for a rich centerpiece of layered vocals. This track examines the gratification of being able to intimately relate to another person through similar backgrounds and shared experiences. Specifically, all of DEACON explores romantic love and companionship between Black men. As the final chorus of “Same Size Shoe” fades away, the track ends with the line “I know you can actually walk a mile in my shoes / That’s why I love you.” It’s a celebration of finding the right person.
Raised by religious parents in Baltimore, serpent was introduced to gospel music at an early age and later sang in a Pentecostal choir. In Christian churches, a deacon is an unsung helper—a person who is there when needed most to offer emotional, logistical or spiritual service. Throughout the album, serpent examines his own relationships and finds the same holiness, devotion and selfless faith that is preached and revered in the church. On “Old & Fine” serpent recognizes that, in love, everyday secular moments can transcend into the liturgical: “I knew you were mine when your toast became a sermon,” he sings. The point is, the divine lives in the adoration between people who love each other. On “Fellowship,” DEACON’s closing track, serpent proclaims his feelings with gospel-like repetition and persistence. Over and over, he sings, “I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends.”
In a living, breathing, human-like manner, DEACON contains numerous dimensions, presenting itself as simple and classic while also carrying the weight of varied hopes, questions and ideas. With its understated production and raw lyricism, DEACON has the expressionistic ability to collaborate with the listener and take on myriad different forms.
Chief among the album’s powers is its ability to convey the exultant joy of having a crush on another person. On “Amir,” serpent examines how romantic interest can displace everything else in the mind: “Tell me all your corny jokes / I want to hear about your folks / If you’re missing home, what do you miss most?” It’s an interrogation process reserved for a person who wants to know everything about their new crush. On “Wood Boy,” serpent captures the dizzying symptoms of being caught in a blossoming fling: “l think I’m gonna need a map after this / ‘Cus I don’t know where anything is / Where is the grocery store? / What’s my name again?” It’s a sappy and playful moment, but serpent is aiming to illustrate the universal giddiness of catching feelings—and he does so authentically.
Other themes of DEACON include the recognition of male beauty, commitment, gratitude, and sexual liberation. Assorted percussion instruments and horns adorn serpent’s voice like jewelry, offering the delicate atmosphere of a laid-back marching band. The vibe of all eleven tracks is gentle and tender—a sonic sanctuary punctuated by vocal dexterity and candid songwriting. While rejoicing for the love and passion that he has found in his own life, serpent has recorded and delivered the album equivalent of a warm embrace. –Austin Beck-Doss