Josiah Wise enlists a raft of sound innovators for the debut serpentwithfeet LP. Clams Casino, Paul Epworth, Katie Gately and mmph are some of the minds behind the gorgeous vistas of soil. Wise’s extraordinary voice, reminiscent of Nina Simone, remains centre-stage. He is a true innovator and we should treasure his talent. If you never listened to blisters, get to know now
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This is an all-caps debut for a lower-case lover. serpentwithfeet has made a record of ruinous torch songs on ‘soil’, exploding his humility with a startling record of future-bound gospel, enveloping boisterous vocal performances and melodic laments in contributions from producers and MCs like Katie Gately, A$AP Rocky and Clams Casino to make a record bursting with pop potential but cowering from it in the corner. A mix of subtle apprehension and maximalist epiphany, ‘soil’ delivers on the promise of ‘blisters’ and then some.
There’s no better blueprint for what serpentwithfeet does than “Messy”, its organ overture making way for a tune of rustling pop hints: a twanging, attacked guitar string acts as the song’s hook, a bellicose sound amidst a muted and sombre vocal melody just waiting to get bolder. On “Wrong Tree”, the organ returns as serpentwithfeet captures and releases strands of vocal, letting them assemble and dissent like a gospel song where a collective of singers go into emotional overdrive. At points, it feels like less of a song and more of a mood board, the voices going where they will, between the kind of a cappella devastation of Shai’s “If I Ever Fall In Love Again” and the goofy harmonies of prefab Beach Boys.
This is the joy of serpentwithfeet’s songs: they overturn structure in favour of emotion, then flip the fantasy and put you back within his song’s box. At times you feel like you’re listening to deeply impressionist, go-where-it-will music; then the beat locks back in, or a melody you thought was fly-on-the-wall reinforces itself. On “Fragrant” he keeps building, the simple synth chords and walking bass line giving him ample time to talk his love out with a couple of binding hooks. “Seedless” sees him dabble in euphoria and haunted house pop -- he crawls out of ominous melodies to sing of comfort and love, before dropping church bell chimes and industrial percussion.
It’s testament to how breathless ‘soil’ is, how the quiet moments never rest, how the blisters get bigger and how the soil grows fresh feelings. Ambitious and brilliant.
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- soil by serpentwithfeet
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