Preciously tender and intimately warm
Sofie Lindevall
11:03 25th March 2021

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We have come to expect that serpentwithfeet will let us into the most vulnerable and personal spaces within his music. After the release of debut EP blisters in 2016 and the widely praised 2018 album soil, we have almost become accustomed to those personal spaces being where heartbreak lives. The follow-up full-length DEACON, however, sees serpent actively avoiding the topic he very much mastered in the past – heartbreak is nowhere to be seen. 

The 11 songs that make up the record are each individually-crafted pieces, stories and studies about love – Black love, gay love, romantic love, platonic love – pieces, stories and studies that together form something that is both preciously tender and intimately warm. Broken hearts may have been replaced, but serpent is perhaps even more vulnerable and personal in its absence.

The album gently opens with a solo folk-esque sounding guitar, but quickly blossoms into a more experimental soundscape after guitar and piano chords are soaked in harmonic choirs and an 808 bass line. The production remains effectively clean throughout the album and is almost minimalistic at times, yet somehow simultaneously maintains an air of creativity and playfulness that keep us intrigued and curious from start to finish. 

Musical traditions carried on from genres like gospel and R&B have always been apparent in serpentwithfeet’s music and that doesn’t change on DEACON. The vocals very much take the centre stage regardless of whether they appear in the form of quietly delicate falsettos or layers upon layers of rich gospel-inspired harmonies, always amplifying serpent’s craft and skill as both songwriter and lyricist. Having grown up in a religious family, DEACON is not only musically-influenced by the gospel music of the Black church, but also takes its title from the Christian office. “I wanted to create something that felt calm and restrained. This was my way of tapping into the energy many deacons possess,” serpent explains. 

About halfway through the record, serpent takes a turn to a sound that is fully tinted in tones reminiscent of '00s R&B with the tracks ‘Amir’ and ‘Sailor’s Superstition’. They are bound carefully together by the short acapella interlude ‘Dawn’, which, with its just over 30 seconds of pure vocal bliss, acts as an anchor keeping us grounded. It becomes apparent, however, that serpent could make big R&B anthems - songs that would blast out of speakers at parties and demand repeat radio play - should he want to.

‘Fellowship’, the first song to be released as a single from DEACON back in January, perfectly sits like a polished crown jewel at the end of the album, making all of it shine just that little bit brighter. “Maybe it's the blessing of my 30s/I'm spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love/ More time recounting the love” serpent sings before being joined by Lil Silva and Sampha in repeating the lines “And I'm so thankful for/My friends (my friends), my friends (my friends)/I'm thankful for the love I share with my friends” over and over in the song’s mantra-like chorus; a mantra that perhaps sums up the essence of DEACON better than any other words can.

DEACON is a record manifesting warmth. A record full of love. It is practically impossible not to love it. 

DEACON arrives 26 March via Secretly Canadian.

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Photo: Press