After spending years studying as a classical vocalist, 27-year-old Baltimore-born artist serpentwithfeet (a nom de plume for Josiah Wise) spent time drifting around Paris and London before eventually landing in NYC. It was here that his music–a beautiful confluence of gospel and classically-inflected electronica–began to truly take shape.
“I decided in 2012 or in 2013 that I didn't want a band anymore,” he recalls, “I was like, ‘What would happen if I did my R&B thing over this classical shit?’ It took a while, but I started to wonder if I could make something that satisfies other people and myself. I want the music to resonate with people. I didn't start thinking about that until I moved to New York, to be honest.”
blisters is serpentwithfeet’s first EP from Tri Angle Records. After spending a few years experimenting—both musically and visually—in NYC’s underground queer music scene (“I was basically just posting something new every week on Soundcloud, waiting for someone to take notice,” he says), Wise eventually struck on a sound and a sentiment that made sense. On ‘four ethers,’ the third single to be taken from blisters, serpentwithfeet wonders aloud what it would feel like to be violently transparent, and finds him in pursuit of a rare honesty. Huge swathes of strings and percussion emphatically rise and crash turbulently against Wise’'s questioning voice as he ultimately asks: “How can I touch somebody who wont even touch themselves?” ‘four ethers’ might be serpentwithfeet’s most powerful and dramatic work to date.
A similar kind of emotional dynamic runs throughout all of blisters. Tracks like “penance” and “redemption” vacillate between hushed intimacy and huge emotional swells. On the EP’s title track, Wise’s multi-tracked voice plays against gently-plucked harp and syncopated handclaps, the record’s gospel affectations and slinky R&B tropes fusing into something unique, exotic, and strangely beautiful. Meanwhile, surrounded by strings, subtle electronics and Wise's restrained piano playing--and buoyed aloft by production courtesy of The Haxan Cloak— the EP’s first single, “flickering,” is the perfect showcase for Wise’s powerhouse voice. “I’m starting to feel the cord connecting us two is made of gossamer,” he sings. “I’m starting to feel there's no cord between us two / are we made of gossamer?” The track unspools with a kind of hushed intimacy, the tone and tenor of Wise’s voice rising and falling like a breath until the song itself crests and flutters before disappearing completely.
Given that he credits both Brandy and Bjork as inspirations, it’s not surprising that serpentwithfeet treads a fine line between emotive gospel and more left-of-centre stylings. With his own gloriously outré personal style and penchant for the dramatic, it also makes sense that the music Wise makes would be so remarkably unclassifiable. “It feels very free because I also feel very free,” he says. “I don't feel like being gay restricts me in the same way I also don't feel like being black restricts me. In fact, it only makes me more interesting. Making music has always been about making a space for myself in the world. My theory has always been that if you walk into a room and say, ‘This is my room’—it’s your room. The End.”