When serpentwithfeet released Soil in 2018, the artist instantly positioned himself as a visionary voice in the world of experimental R&B. His vocals were remarkably dynamic, dancing among instrumentals and production that amplified his nuanced and often twisted stories. The album was undoubtedly tense, with serpent expressing sadness and dysfunction more often than not. But within that motif, the artist dropped hints of love and excitement. After the aptly titled “Mourning Song” expressed depression, “Cherubim” exploded with passion and joy as serpent celebrated his ability to love a romantic partner. On his second album, DEACON, the Brooklyn-based artist skips the depression of “Mourning Song” in favor of an album that focuses on joy. Where Soil was foreboding, DEACON is celebratory; where the old serpent was downtrodden, the new serpent is joyful.
DEACON is fundamentally a celebration of love. From its start, the album shows imagery of sunny days and passionate connections. “Hyacinth” bursts with dense layers of vocals and bass that compare a lover to a flower. Later, serpent again uses nature to express his love on the stunning interlude “Dawn.” The singer’s lyrics move between these poetic expressions of love to more direct expressions of lust as the album moves forward. On “Wood Boy,” serpent sings about sex and desire, saying “rearrange me” and “damn, I like him inside me.” The shift in story is punctuated by a change in production as well. While much of DEACON is glossier than Soil, “Wood Boy” jumps back into the rigid edges and buzzing distortion of serpent’s debut.
Though serpent’s lyrics remain compelling in their shift towards celebration, DEACON’s movement into new production styles can be less compelling. The artist’s work is neater than before, and that’s not always a good thing. The production duo Take a Daytrip produced DEACON’s sixth track, “Sailors’ Superstition,” and though their skill is undeniable, their style regrettably smoothes out the angular structures that make serpent so interesting. Later, when NAO’s vocals join serpent on “Heart Storm,” a similar tension between styles is found. Both artists provide effective performances, but as NAO takes over, the song struggles to find balance between the two singer’s artistry. But even among these hiccups as serpent explores the development of his sound, DEACON is a worthy follow-up to his excellent debut. The songs are yet again lush, and serpent’s voice and lyrics remain showstopping. Overall, DEACON is a wonderful album.