2021 • EXPERIMENTAL/POP • SECRETLY CANADIAN
BEST NEW MUSIC
Josiah Wise’s second studio album demonstrates that the New York-based singer is in better clouds, singing about affection and Black gay love through bold and ambitious songs.
Josiah Wise is one of the current artists who have a stronger perspective on love. To enjoy the passion or deal with a broken heart, Wise, under the artistic name serpentwithfeet, seems to have the medicine. On his debut album, Soil, the experimental artist painted scenes from the last dinner with his ex-boyfriend to the insistence on a relationship that had already been killed. Despite always showing devastating, depressing, and hopeless endings, Wise never stopped believing in love, which, according to his songs, seems to be the primordial thing for human beings. All of that hope that has culminated for years finally comes in the form of his second studio album, DEACON, where Wise honestly celebrates Black gay love.
Since the release of his debut, Wise has grown very artistically speaking. During the interval between his two albums, he had several experiences that helped him to sharpen his vision about himself and his work. One of these is the collaboration with Kanye West and FKA twigs on Ty Dolla Sign’s “Ego Death.” All of these experiences are seen in DEACON, where Wise delivers a sound that manages to be, at the same time, experimental and easily accessible and associative, and complex compositions that also share the feeling of fluidity and are easily catchy. The album has 11 songs and only 30 minutes in length, however, this is not a decisive fact since, in these relatively few minutes, Wise was able to deliver a complete and closed account of his experience with an honest, true love that is good for him. The only problem, in reality, is that the album ends much sooner than it should.
The opener, “Hyacinth,” starts the album very well with a song that looks like the combination of a serenade and an acoustic, worked with atmospheric and cavernous synthesizers. In the composition, Wise seems aware of his new relationship, being enchanted by all the magic of something new and true. “I began to believe nature’s magic was reserved for bees/Not for the men I meet,” he begins and completes later, “Life has taught me, life has shown/All the love I need is home, is home.” Regardless of what he says here, do you believe because this beginning seems like the seed of something incredible that he will cultivate in the next tracks.
In fact, DEACON‘s main theme is simple: love. The best songs on the album are when Wise explores love from different angles, delivering his vision based on his feelings. On the second track of the album, “Same Size Shoe,” Josiah delivers one of the sweetest and most catchy songs on the album. In the lyrics, again, he looks silly at the love he’s feeling. He sings, “Boy you got my trust ’cause I’m like you/Me and my boo wear the same size shoe.” However, the highlight of this passionate song is the sound part, with brilliant synthesizers and distant beats in the background, as well as an onomatopoeia on the bridge (“Where are my trumpet, trumpet, oh, oh, oh/Fa-fa-da, fa -fa-da”). Despite its experimental elements, everything here seems to be as usual, however in the track “Wood Boy,” Wise goes more radical both in the lyrics, in which he talks about sex in a discreet way, and in the sonority, with industrial beats that seem to come out of some Arca’s album. But even so, the music is still very captivating and lovely.
Despite this relatively limited central narrative thematic, the album is rarely boring or drawn out. As already mentioned, the album has a little less than 30 minutes and despite this relatively monotonous theme, Wise manages to keep you entertained for almost the entire time. While the short “Malik” tells is very cute, although it seems a little unfinished at times, “Amir,” with its minimalist instrumental that sounds elegant and relaxed, shows Wise at the beginning of a relationship, with him singing, “Boy you look good, damn, where you stay?/Can I take, take you on a date?/Do you like beer or like rosé?” Finally, “Derrick’s Beard” appears with beautiful and well-directed influences from gospel music, while “Heart Storm,” is an excellent duo between Wise and the singer NAO, and “Old & Fine” is a love epiphany for life.
It’s really hard to point out some bad music on DEACON. To be able to see a defect, you have to close your eyes tightly to certain aspects. Thus, perhaps the most unnecessary track on the record is “Dawn,” which, although beautiful, ends up not saying or adding anything. Meanwhile, “Sailor’s Superstition,” despite the good message about healthy relationships and a hook with disco influences, the track still seems a little conflicted at times between its various sonic faces. Of course, it is not an accessible album due to some moments when the sound is too muffled and ends up disturbing the final experience. I also think that the album ends much sooner than it should and, although it takes advantage of that time and doesn’t leave any really incomplete themes, I think that there are still some areas and issues that ended up missing here. On the final track, alongside experimental beats with industrial influences and African culture, Wise sings, “I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends.” It makes sense to us since this album made us feel like his friends.