SWEET PREACH: It’s hard to imagine that Soil (Secretly Canadian) is serpentwithfeet‘s (Josiah Wise) debut album (CD/LP/DL). In 2016 he put out his first EP called Blisters, and it was a jawdropper, and he’s been seen in countless conceptual videos and interviews throughout social media since. This time around he arrives in a padded package, literally, as depicted in the dayglow of its double moon coverart. Just released a few days ago, these eleven tracks will put him on a broader map of people’s consciousness. Not since Die Antwoord or label-mate Antony Hegarty (now known as Anohni) broke on the scene in the Aughts has there been a fringe queer performer with such other worldly vestiges and a truly unique voice to back up the message. To start, on Whisper his trill is magical in accompaniment with a simple flute effect until other vocal layers and a hushed percussion enter the fray.
The song slowly unravels something like a Björk work (Earth Intruders), maybe after working together recently there were after-effects. That said, he lets out a soulful croon that sounds like the vantage point of someone who has absorbed every last breath Otis Redding took, like a sponge. Oh yes, he is that smooth, though the range between spoken sing-song and the entire unfurling of his talents contracts and expands over the full course here. Messy is theatrical, again, adding gorgeous vocal effects, like a refined one man boy band barbershop quartet to a rattan tribal beat. Though big shoes to fill, and unintentional, this guy seems the next in line to the throne vacated by Prince.
Wrong Tree‘s churchy organ pomp and all that playful handclapping has the right message, sung with sweetened lips in a flavor of a self-referential redemption song. Soil is filled with short stories, of ex-boyfriends, and exploration of the senses. Lamenting about having a deep voice like ‘the demon’ buried in the ground becomes the set-up on Mourning Song. It’s sparse effects and treatments set the vocal(s) and grunts like the elusive changing colors in rare gemstones like sapphire and opal. It’s an album highlight, an evocative inner voice, letting go of the past. Cherubim comes from left field, it’s arrangement sounds like an accompaniment to a broken modern dance performance, with husky movements in gradated light.
ONE MAN CHOIR: The heartbeat of Seedless with it’s echoes of Smokey & the Miracles has a new message, but it’s only hinted at here. It’s unveiled and delivered on Invoice, breaking down a lover’s quarrel, the age-old tale that separates love and finances, until the hope of Waft, drives the spirit to planting new seeds. So, the record lyrically unveils the continuation of a history, of how the earth is a metaphor for relationships, and how the inner self needs to be ‘planted’ and recycled towards a higher understanding. Could he be calling to the after life? Slow Syrup attempts to answer the question, as the singer pleads to avoid rejection, though in doing so it may make him the man he doesn’t want to be. It’s a forlorn position, bathed in wonderful gauzy tones. The man preaches (in uncertain tongues) to + with the choir, and for the rest of us.
SONGS OF DEVOTION: The record ends on a positive note on Bless Ur Heart to a simple piano and spaced drumbeat, and when the track adds its synth and vocal effects, it flies high. The singer imagines burrowing creatures to take his songs underground, we begin to understand the artistic plight of not only the ego, but having your ideas carry on. This heartbreaking piece is an apropos end to an emotional full length debut that will have a certain slow, poetic power in its wake. It will not shock me in the least if this ends up on a roster of Best Lists of ’18. Stunning.