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DEACON Amanda Farah , March 24th, 2021 09:07

Josiah Wise finds joy in the making of his second serpentwithfeet album. Amanda Farah, in the listening, likewise

Many of us have seen changes in our outlooks and personalities over the last year, so it’s not particularly shocking that musicians are similarly affected. What is surprising, however, is when an artist known for tapping into heavier emotions not only decides to look on the bright side of life, but is completely convincing. serpentwithfeet stole hearts by baring his own broken one on his debut, 2018’s soil. But for DEACON, his second full-length, he has chosen pleasure, comfort, and love.

Emotions are not something serpentwithfeet’s Josiah Wise does by halves. The artist who described his grief in such rich and sometimes agonising detail is just as present when he describes his happiness. The details on DEACON are rooted in the mundane rather than escapism: chance meetings, watching Christmas films in July, corny clothes and jokes, the man who calls everyone’s mother ‘Mama’.

This new focus is reflected throughout the tenor of the album. The density of soil has been scraped back, giving each song a lightness and an ability to breathe. Wise’s vocals – reaching sky-high falsettos and weaving in the gospel traditions he was raised with – are a calling card for his work. The emphasis for DEACON, however, is more on dexterity than drama. The effect is often collage-like, with calls and responses, wordless flourishes (at their most playful as a trumpet on ‘Same Size Shoe’) or as a show of mutual strength as, like when they are layered on the outro of ‘Fellowship’.

A few of the mid-album tracks – most notably ‘Wood Boy’ – have more of the staticky programming familiar from Serpentwithfeet’s debut. But the percussion doesn’t hit heavily, tones all ring a little longer, and the parts of songs are all gently tied together with faint synth wrappers. Acoustic guitars and faint pianos are able to peek through as texture without exerting too much influence. But just as the tone of soil followed from Wise’s often desperate vocals, DEACON is measured and gentle, to the point where even direct expressions of sexual desire still sound wholesome.

And some of it honestly is just wholesome. When Wise sings “I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends,” on the chorus of album closer ‘Fellowship,’ it’s hard to imagine – after a year of separations, of text messages just checking in and Zoom calls substituting real celebrations or bereavements – a more beautiful sentiment.

If you’re willing to have a sentimental moment, it’s a track worth sending to a friend you haven’t seen much over the last year. Vulnerability can be as difficult to show when dealing with positive emotions as the more difficult ones. serpentwithfeet recognises well what’s at stake. A declaration of love makes you as vulnerable as any revelation of pain, yet he is every bit as open about what he could lose as with what he had lost. And it’s a breath of fresh air.