Baltimore-born, New York-based artist Josiah Wise (aka serpentwithfeet) took the music world by storm in June when he released his debut single for Tri Angle Records, “blisters.” The song’s grand, immensely expressive production (courtesy of labelmate The Haxan Cloak) does a masterful job of showcasing Wise’s R&B-styled vocal chops, as he intones softly over hand claps and harp runs, and layers his voice among trembling, claustrophobic echoes of synths and strings. The feeling evoked by “blisters” is massive and incredibly visceral, but accessible, too; Wise’s voice, soft and strong, beckons to the listener, encouraging you to take what you need from the music.
In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Wise explained the genesis of his serpentwithfeet project: “I grew up in church, and there was pressure to be spiritually sound. A lot of my earlier music was about being a grounded, balanced person—an urban guru or something—which is something I definitely aspired to be… But then I realized that I was not really engaging the parts of me that were anxious and really queer and melancholy—all the stuff that is considered a little less savory.” There’s tension in “blisters,” but there’s also a certainty to the way Wise expresses his uncertainties. In trying times, it’s natural to seek out definitive conclusions—yes or no, happy or sad—but there is also something to be said for being able to make a home in a liminal space, in melancholy, in shifting ideas of self.
serpentwithfeet’s debut EP drops September 2 via Tri Angle, and on September 30, you can catch him opening for Jenny Hval at le poisson rouge. It’s going to be one for the books.
– Nina Posner