Josiah Wise, aka Serpentwithfeet Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Experimental musician Serpentwithfeet (born Josiah Wise) is many things, including a man of his word. “Life’s gotta get easier / Can’t carry a heavy heart into another year,” he vows on “A Comma” from last April’s EP Apparition. If you take the new Deacon (Secretly Canadian) at face value, he hasn’t: the album is the artist’s most ecstatic release to date. But like much of his output, the record has a promise at its surface that masks layers of depth underneath. Serpentwithfeet proved his heartbreak bona fides millionfold with the shattering Blisters (2016) and Soil (2018), so in the context of his discography—and of what was nothing short of a traumatic year—Deacon’s paean to Black queer love becomes all the more effusive and subversive. There’s love of all flavors here. We find belonging right off the bat in the balladic “Hyacinth” and the sultry, swaying “Same Size Shoe”; “Amir” captures the sexual and conversational voraciousness of a new relationship, winkingly delivered through 90s R&B tropes, while the irrepressibly danceable “Sailor’s Superstition” provides a how-to for keeping that initial spark burning. To my ears, Deacon seems to get winded after “Heart Storm,” which features English singer-songwriter and record producer Nao: lyrics become sparse; structures grow formulaic. But just as we sink into the morass of the predictable, album closer “Fellowship” rears its head. Buoyed by springy, mbira-inflected percussion, Serpentwithfeet leaves us with a final tribute: “I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends.” It’s a remarkably uncynical sentiment in a time often characterized by its cynicism, and a fitting send-off for this quietly courageous album.   v