Review: Serpentwithfeet's Electronic-Gospel-R&B LP 'Soil' Is Impossibly Contemporary

The New York singer's debut mixes cutting-edge sounds and classically trained vocals

Serpentwithfeet's debut album is 'Soil.' Credit: Ash Kingston

Serpentwithfeet's influences make him dangerously cool and impossibly contemporary. His debut was co-released on Tri Angle Records, home of Haxan Cloak, Forest Swords and Lotic, as well as a fitting match for his cutting-edge electronics. As a vocalist, his quavering vibrato is trained in opera and classical music, but it's in tune with the current moment's Nineties R&B reflection – gushing out somewhere between the exploratory cries of Anohni, the soul-rock croon of Terence Trent D'Arby and the plainspoken wander of Frank Ocean. As a songwriter, the former choirboy pulls melodic influence from traditional gospel music à la Kanye West, Chance the Rapper and others. A fan of Dvorak, Kirk Franklin, Brandy and Björk, the artist, born Josiah Wise, sings love songs that resemble hymns like "Cherubim," on which he lets loose a flood of emotions as helicopter drones compliment his distended vocals: "I get to devote my life to him/I get to sing like the cherubim... Sowing love into you is my job." He creates ensembles of his voice, even commanding "Sing, choir!" on "Wrong Tree" while harsh digital silences, stutters and monster growls provide an expressionist counterpoint. Welcome to Ableton and Heartbreak.