serpentwithfeet’s Positive Vibes
Out gay R&B singer releases uplifting album
BY STEVE ERICKSON
As the anxieties of real
life have mounted for
even the most privileged
people, the assumption
that profound art must be dark and
downbeat has changed. Twenty
years ago, television had to prove
its merit as an art form by bringing
the anti-hero into our living rooms.
But now, feelgood sitcoms like
“Ted Lasso” and “Schitt’s Creek”
are among the most acclaimed TV
shows. Common notions of “the
art we need now” have changed to
something edgy and directly topical
to something that, at worst, can
comfort us at the end of a stressful
day and, at best, can help us picture
a world that is less cruel and
violent. In a word, “wholesome.”
“DEACON,” the second album by
out gay R&B singer serpentwithfeet,
is extremely wholesome. It
closes with the chorus “My friends,
my friends/I’m thankful for the
love I share with my friends.” The
audible presence of British singer
Sampha, who produced it with
Lil Silva, singing along with serpentwithfeet
on the song puts its
sentiments into practice.
Serpentwithfeet introduced himself
to the world with his 2016 ep,
“Blisters,” featuring himself singing
over samples of classical music.
His debut album, “soil,” was very
good but didn’t quite deliver on that
promise. “DEACON” has a far more
thought-out aesthetic. He decided
not to include any songs about
heartbreak or any other negative
emotions. “Same-Size Shoe” is inspired
by his decision only to date
other Black men, but it doesn’t directly
address how a desire to avoid
racism might have played a role in
this. Instead, the tone of “DEACON”
is warm and celebratory.
His early music refl ected an interest
in music education that turned
out to be diffi cult to pursue. A 2018
interview with the website Loud and
Quiet described the ups and downs
of being a Black man trying to get
classical vocal training and fi nd a
home in that world. He has since
dropped the occult references used
serpentwithfeet’s latest album is out March 26.
on “Blisters,” but it suggested that
he needed to invent his own genre to
encompass all of his infl uences.
To people who didn’t pay much
attention to the lyrics of “Cherubim,”
the most memorable song
on serpentwithfeet’s fi rst album, it
might have passed for church music,
but its religious imagery was
used to convey his love for a man.
The sense of community provided
by organized religion felt somewhat
missing on that album, which
featured track after track of serpentwithfeet’s
ornate, heavily overdubbed
harmonizing with himself.
If he couldn’t fi nd a choir to support
him, he would make up his own.
But in the time since its release,
serpentwithfeet has befriended the
mainstream R&B star Ty Dolla
Sign, who sang a duet with him on
the 2019 single “Receipts,” worked
with him as a songwriter and
backup vocalist on “Ego Death,”
and gave him an interlude on his
2020 album “Featuring Ty Dolla
Sign.” He has also remixed Bjork’s
“Blissing Me” and has been featured
on Brockhampton and Elle
The videos for this album’s
fi rst two singles, “Fellowship” and
“Same Size Shoe,” both celebrate
Black gay love in a joyful style.
“Fellowship” is so convincing as
a set of home movies of a relaxed
day at the beach cuddling with his
partner that I was startled when
serpentwithfeet begins lip-synching.
Although made by different
directors, the visual for “Same
Size Shoe” brings that same spirit
home, as serpentwithfeet and his
partner make breakfast and spend
the day together in their apartment.
The look switches from Super
8 to VHS, but the inclusion of
fake cereal brands and TV clips is
the only trace of artifi ce.
Throughout, “DEACON” delivers
on a non-toxic vision of masculinity.
On “Same Size Shoe,” he sings
“Won’t kiss your son if his heart
ain’t big.” It never comes across as
corny because the album grounds
it in concrete details (although he’s
OK with that, declaring “A corny
man’s a healthy man” on “Malik.”)
The beats reference music across
Africa and its diaspora: the processed
drums of “Same Size Shoe”
evoke dub reggae, while “Fellowship”
carries the album out with
shimmering kalimbas. (“Wood
Boy,” the album’s most sexually
frank song, is also the only one
with a hint of dissonance.) The politics
of “DEACON” remain implicit,
but they’re there nevertheless. Protest
songs aren’t serpentwithfeet’s
lane, but “DEACON” is a shining
example of using music to imagine
a better world.
SERPENTWITHFEET | “DEACON”
| Secretly Canadian | Released
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GayCityNews.com | MARCH 25 - APRIL 7 , 2021 25