Josiah Wise trades in passion for commitment on Deacon, his latest full-length album as Serpentwithfeet. Since his debut Blisters EP, the choir-trained experimental artist from Baltimore has woven an extensive catalogue depicting the tenderness and lushness of queer romance, with a baroque sonic palette that would be as fitting for a bedroom as a tabernacle. Deacon works in a lighter register, with four-on-the-floor beats and pop hooks, although it’d be disingenuous to call this a party record — Deacon is less “clubby,” and more like dancing in your living room with a glass of wine after dinner.
Wise sets the scene of laid-back domesticity from the get-go: “I think my green thumb has led me to a real one/So glad the soil has yielded something more than bad luck,” he croons on “Hyacinth.” Granted, the seeds of new love and initial flirtation on the dance floor still bloom on tracks “Malik” and “Amir,” but just as absence makes the heart grow fonder, Wise approaches these ex-flames from his past with a chuckling distance. “His outfit’s kinda corny, you know that’s my type/A corny man’s a healthy man,” he advises, describing a lover who wears socks with sandals and indulges in capoeira.
Indeed, it’s the cheekiness and humor of Deacon that really shines, without sacrificing the complex theatricality that has made Serpentwithfeet such a standout project. On “Same Size Shoe,” Wise is so ecstatic that he and his boo can exchange footwear that he exclaims, “Bring me my trumpet!” That “trumpet” turns out to be a chorus of his own voice scatting: “Ba-ba-da, ba-ba-da!” And on “Wood Boy” — which is exactly what you think it’s about – his epitome of good sex is getting his world literally turned upside down. “Where’s the grocery store? What’s my address? What’s my name again?” he swoons.
By Deacon’s end, though, Wise has put the jokes aside in favor of genuine gratitude and camaraderie. “Fellowship,” co-written with Lil Silva and Sampha, is a righteous ode to black and queer friendships, but it’s also Wise’s love letter to his own maturity, and to the stable foundation he’s built for himself. “Maybe it’s the blessing of my thirties,” he muses. “I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.” It’s a celebratory shout and a sigh of relief all at once.