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serpentwithfeet: DEACON

serpentwithfeet’s debut album soil was a barrage of insecurities and triumphs: lust and love; blood, sweat and tears. With its ominous instrumentals and Josiah Wise’s astonishingly raw performances, the record was as terrifying and beautifully messy as the first loves and heartbreaks it recounted. Now in his thirties, Wise has not escaped his fears, but his values have settled and he’s more capable of reaching peace within himself. DEACON, the second serpentwithfeet album, is a more focused and linear story of Josiah Wise reaching such peace after a sort of relapse. Though it struggles with pacing and transitioning between acts during its tight 29-minute runtime, DEACON demonstrates a stunningly mature and ultimately level-headed progression from soil.

On opener “Hyacinth,” Wise gives a glimpse of both the starting point and finish line of the album. He hints at an innocently smitten first act with lines so sweet they can only describe the first love of an untarnished heart: “He never played football/ But look at how he holds me/ He never needed silverware but I’m his little spoon/ And all the soup on his mouth came from me.” We then immediately see that Wise is speaking from the experienced and settled place of DEACON’s third act as he sings “Distant men ain’t fine as they used to be/ The handsomest guys are caring and nearby/ Life has taught me, life has shown/ All the love I need is home, is home.” After getting hurt by love time and again on soil, Wise reveals that DEACON will end in triumph, in a place of maturity where he knows exactly how to fall head over heels for someone.

Lyrically and instrumentally, DEACON’s first act is completely love-drunk, almost absurd in its impulsiveness and childlike wonder. “Same Size Shoe” is an underwater dream with its molasses drum-kit beat, bubbly effects and layered, out-of-sync vocals sleepily singing “Me and my boo wear the same size shoe.” A ridiculous bridge of nasally “Bah bah-dahs” imitating a trumpet puts everything over the top, revealing just how vulnerable and controlled by love Wise is in this moment.

“Malik” and “Amir” follow, two crushes that barely feel real as Wise makes such one-sided observations and entreaties of these love interests. The former is holy in his corny outfits, the latter simply the object of Wise’s rapid-fire, nervous questions: “Can I take, take you on a date?/ Do you like beer or like rosé?/ Are you free Friday?/ Is that okay?” “Malik’s” piano line and “Amir’s” acoustic guitar picking both take an unsettling tone, closing in on a lovesick protagonist who’s alone in this gilded honeymoon phase.

Interlude “Dawn” confirms that it was all a dream, ushering in the second act’s dark reality. “Sailor’s Superstition” is haunting with its ghost-like backing vocals, rolling beat and brooding keyboards reminiscent of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. Wise realizes that his infatuation was as precarious as a wind-threatened ship. His love life was built on a foundation as unstable as superstition, and now that he’s fallen so deeply all he can do is hold on for dear life.

Wise is overwhelmed by his fears the second reality sets in, triggering the “Heart Storm” at DEACON’s climax. serpentwithfeet and self-described “wonky funk” singer Nao sing of the sky splitting open over an ominous panic attack of descending keys, heavy synths and crashing static. Such darkness was more than effective throughout soil, but it’s utterly terrifying here as we witness Wise fall from such a blissful place into this nightmare of anxiety.

At his weakest, Wise falls prey to lust on the not-so-subtle “Wood Boy.” A glitchy beat imitates staggered breathing and his voice is pitch-shifted down to that of his demons as he sings “Damn, he feelin’ on my body” before becoming lost entirely, asking in a daze “Where’s the grocery store? What’s my address? What’s my name again?” This is total loss of control.

The exhausted interlude “Derrick’s Beard” sees Wise drifting back to sleep as he beckons his lover to “come over here” and comforts him over a piano lullaby. He finally finds his peace on “Old & Fine” as he sings of growing old with the one he loves, liberating himself from time-restrictive ideas of honeymoon phases as he resolves to “put no clock on it.” Now, the silly little things his “sweetie” did that he fell in love with are far more convincing than those in the first act because he’s not using them to suppress his fears. Chimes and whispers place the song in a dream state yet again, but the love serpentwithfeet is portraying couldn’t be more real.

DEACON closes with the foot-tapping “Fellowship,” a celebration of friendship and growth. A melancholy dance beat backs a tearful Wise who has been both beaten down and saved by love. There’s no regret here, only reflection on the suffering that got him to this place of gratitude: “Maybe it’s the blessing of my thirties/ I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.” serpentwithfeet has always sung of the complexities of romantic and lustful love, and all the fear and joy that comes with it. “Fellowship” is dedicated to friends, but at the end of a journey in which love dragged him down into and back up from his darkest fears, the song rounds out DEACON as a stunning portrayal of love in all its beautiful forms.

Summary
serpentwithfeet’s second album is more focused than his first, a stunning portrayal of love in all its forms as it beats Josiah Wise down and ultimately saves him.
80 %
Matured Love
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