Serpentwithfeet makes queer, vibrating R&B that sounds like nothing else on earth | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Serpentwithfeet makes queer, vibrating R&B that sounds like nothing else on earth 

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click to enlarge Serpentwithfeet


Ash Kingston

Serpentwithfeet’s recently released debut album, Soil (Secretly Canadian), is essentially one long, ecstatic warble. The R&B singer-songwriter genius also known as Josiah Wise sings with the most pronounced vibrato this side of Tracy Chapman; when he multitracks his high tenor and falsetto vocals such as on “Wrong Tree,” the result is an ocean of shimmering, yearning ululation. Set against electronic soundscapes reminiscent of Björk or FKA Twigs, his singing is both sensual and unearthly, floating and shaking beyond the usual limits of male and female voices to sketch out new, extravagant life forms (as you’d expect from an artist who calls himself Serpentwithfeet.) Trained in both classical and gospel music, Wise’s songs of queer love, sex, and sadness embody a reverential conviction. “I get to / devote my life to him,” he sings on “Cherubim,” conflating religion and romance as smoothly as midcareer Al Green. Other tracks mix influences and messages even more dizzyingly; “Fragrant” is set against a quiet industrial beat over which Serpentwithfeet loses both himself and his love in languid infidelity. “I called all your ex-boyfriends / And asked them for a kiss / I needed to know / If they still carried your fragrance.” Self becomes body becomes scent becomes music—in Serpentwithfeet’s art, nothing is stable and everything vibrates.   v

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