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Serpentwithfeet - Grip (Album Review)

Monday, 26 February 2024 Written by Jay Fullarton

Even when viewed alongside such luminaries as Frank Ocean, Steve Lacy, and Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, Serpentwithfeet’s unique vocal inflections and heart-rending melodies have helped him to stand out in a blossoming R&B scene informed by the experiences of queer black men. He has one of the most haunting voices in the entire genre but ‘Grip’ shows that he also has his share of unrealised potential. 

Here, Josiah Wise opts for a minimal, sensual experience, sadly trading the artsy ambition shown on his first album for (mostly) sleepy slow jams. He pays tribute to queer nightlife while exploring love, lust, and sounds as intimate as the cover art would suggest, but his overt longing for connection doesn’t always translate into a cogent listening experience.

Things do start strongly with lead single Damn Gloves. Amid layers of thumping bass, reverb, glitter and sweat, the beat glows red with the addictive hip house vibes of a Channel Tres or Kaytranada track. It’s queer pop at its finest — freaky, dark, and intoxicating.

The ambience shifts from strobes to dimmed lights with Safe Word, the second single unveiled in the lead up to the LP. This is a more traditional Serpentwithfeet track, comprising wistful, haunting art-pop and whimpering falsettos. Gently AutoTuned lullabies float on top of cloudy acoustic production as he repeats the refrain, “Oh the safe word, the safe word is me.”

But following that too many songs sound destined for candlelit bedrooms and vanilla sex playlists as opposed to enveloping repeat listens. Spades, for example, is run of the mill moody trap. It’s unremarkable background music, which Wise is surely above at this point. Equally, Rum / Throwback is more like mid-2010s Drake, and while Wise’s vocals offer a gentle serenade, multiple beat switches off-road the track into mediocrity. 

There remain glimpses of beauty peppered throughout — Hummin is barebones ASMR with tender whispers and fragmented production, while the electronic buzz of closer 1 to 10 heats things up a bit — but Wise has little to say. His usually expressive vocals seem only to sink further into the furniture. 

‘Grip’ is at its best when embracing club aesthetics, but Wise only dips his toe into this sound, avoiding the deep end at all costs. On a record that’s supposed to be steamy and stimulating, it’s often just inoffensive and safe. 


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