On the Blisters EP, Serpentwithfeet's Josiah Wise established himself as an artist with a distinctive vision as he examined faith, love, and lust from the perspective of a proudly gay African-American man. On his debut album, Soil, he expands that vision to awe-inspiring proportions. To help his music grow, Wise enlisted a team of expert sound-shapers ranging from his Tri Angle labelmates mmph, Clams Casino, and Katie Gately to Adele producer Paul Epworth (whose work on "Invoice" features some of Wise's most spellbinding vocals). This mix of experimental and platinum-selling talent unites the different strands of Wise's musical history even more completely and satisfyingly than Blisters did, blending gospel, classical, R&B, and avant-garde into songs that glow like religious icons. The most striking tracks hone and magnify the power Wise displayed on the Blisters standout "Four Ethers." "Whisper" invokes the mighty gospel he grew up with in its earth-shaking stomps and ecstatic vocalizing -- when he wails "My love for you runs so deep," it's one of many times when he could be singing about a lover or a higher power. Later, "Cherubim" is equal parts reverent, theatrical, and erotic as a choir of Wise's harmonies puts equal weight on every syllable of its chorus: "I get to devote my life to him/I get to sing like the cherubim." Even Soil's smaller-scale songs contain multitudes. "Wrong Tree"'s organ could belong in a church or an old horror movie, a feeling echoed in the way Wise's words update Biblical imagery ("Fruit I couldn't wait to eat/Suddenly began to bleed") while his delivery borrows the smoothness of '90s R&B. Blisters proved Serpentwithfeet has a way with an extended metaphor, and Soil's songs embrace every aspect of its title as they explore its dualities. Devotion, sacrifice, and obsession spill into each other on darkly rapturous songs such as "Waft," a celebration of the earthy potency of a man's scent, and "Seedless," which teeters between comforting and lustful in its eerie verses and hopeful choruses. There's a sacred intensity throughout Soil; these songs can barely contain Wise's emotions, whether it's the anguished rejection of "Slow Syrup" or the tenderness of "Bless Ur Heart," where he wonders "How could I keep these love documents to myself?" It's this need to share so much of himself -- with his listeners as well as the ones he loves -- that makes Serpentwithfeet's music so compelling, and Soil captures a passionate, complex artist coming into his own.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares