Josiah Wise has returned with his sophomore album, the follow up to 2018’s soil, an album that saw Wise incorporate more of his gospel routes into his R&B tinged sound. On new album DEACON Wise has expanded these sounds and movements to great heights and tinged everything with a sunkissed glow, allowing the Black queer love to shine through at every moment.
The greatest aspect of this album that constantly at consistently drives the sound throughout is Wise’s lustful, emotive and exceptionally vibrant vocal performances. Opener “Hyacinth” builds through layers of harmonies and vocal melodies to create a truly infatuating sound, glistening with an exuberant emotional wealth from Wise. You can hear this on every vocal inflection and as the chorus of “Don’t tell me the universe ain’t listening, I went to bed single now I’m kissing” flows in you truly get a sense of the infatuation Wise is feeling, a feeling that is carried through most of this album. On “Malik” Wise infuses his gospel routes with a flavour of soul in its melodies, the song may be short and sparse in instrumentation but still Wise’s vocal harmonies carry the song.
Wise, like most of us at the moment, is longing for companionship on this album. Although it may not be centered around the notion of the time we’re living in, it makes it just that bit more relatable. On “Derrick’s Beard” he simply repeats the line “Come over here, missing your beard” whilst adding gliding layers of harmonies each time. But in this simplicity you can feel the deep longing that Wise is feeling; this thought is the only thing on his mind. This longing at times can almost turn into obsession as on “Wood Boy” Wise describes intimate desires, “I need you more than I admit sometimes, I want you on top of me” that later on turns to Wise forgetting simple facts as the person he is desiring is starting to push everything else from his mind, “Where’s the grocеry store? What’s my address? What’s my name again?” he sings. And you can almost hear the claustrophobia that Wise is feeling through the closed in vocals and uneasy glitchy beat create an underlying sense of discomfort in the soundscape.
Through all the longing and wanting however, the main message that Wise is delivering on this album is a celebration of connection, and friendships. On closer “Fellowship” Wise is literally saying that he’s “So thankful for, my friends” and basks in the marvel of small moments spent with dear company. “Our fascination with Prosecco, The silly face you make when I say, “Hello”” he sings over the Afro-beat like groove. You can hear the sweetness of the sound in Wise’s vocals once again, he’s more restrained and yet powerfully emotive at the same time. It’s those unspoken words and fleeting moments that he’s revelling in.
After a certain point in this album however, the sparse sound that Wise inhabits can become slightly too loose and lacking in emotional gravitas. On “Sailors’ Superstition” Wise taps into that club infused R&B sound that has propelled artists like The Weeknd to chart topping fame. Except on this outing the song just feels like another example of the same old formula, one that works for sure, but not as fresh feeling as other cuts on this album.
What Wise has achieved on this though album is capturing his personality from every aspect. Through the stories of love and lust he tells, to the fusion of gospel and R&B this is an emphatic portrait of a person and journal of passioned love.