serpentwithfeet - Deacon
Before Josiah Wise became serpentwithfeet, he was the son of a Christian bookstore owner and a gospel choir director. Now, as a queer avant-garde R&B artist, he has a unique perspective on what it means to worship. On his first full-length album, Soil, worship was a dark form of obsession - he supplicated himself to unrequited love on haunting songs like “Mourning Song”. But if Soil was about praying for better times, Deacon is about celebrating when those prayers are answered. On the album opener, “Hyacinth”, serpentwithfeet sings over a bed of euphoric synths, “Don’t tell me the universe ain’t listening/I went to bed single now I’m kissing/a man that was once a hyacinth”. Much like Soil, some of the tracks on Deacon are more like secular hymns, relentlessly chanted mantras about life and love. “Derrick’s Beard'', for example, is a short but sweet song with the repeated line “Come over here/Missing your beard”, a simple yet effective meditation on intimacy. The final track on this mostly romantic album is called “Fellowship”, a thank you note to everyone serpentwithfeet has been able to call his friend (“Maybe it’s the blessing of my thirties/I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love”). It’s a reminder that regardless of the kind of love you’re sharing - romantic, platonic, or divine - showing gratitude for it is one of the most profound things you can do.
Starrah - The Longest Interlude
You already know the music of Starrah, whether you realize it or not. In the course of only 5 years, Starrah (real name: Brittany Hazzard) has helped write over 14 top 20 Billboard hits, including Camila Cabello’s "Havana”, and more recently, “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion. Now, she’s finally released her first studio album, The Longest Interlude. The title perhaps suggests that while churning out numerous hit singles for other artists, she’s saved the more personal, deep-cut songs in her arsenal for her solo venture. With loose structures, glitchy R&B production, and stream-of-consciousness lyricism, there are few songs on this album that are trying to be Billboard material (although the mid-tempo burn of “Love Mania” comes pretty damn close). However, this album is still chock-full of the ingredients that made Starrah’s hits so effective. Her razor-sharp ear for melody is on full display as soon as the album opens with “Miss This”. The autotune on her voice doesn’t so much distort as it does emphasize the effectiveness of these melodies. The album also features her talent for writing clever yet simple lyrics like “Cocoa butterflies when I touch you” on “Made For You”. Starrah isn’t desperate for a hit on this album- she’s already made enough to last a lifetime. Rather, The Longest Interlude is an album by one of pop music’s craftiest writers, writing whatever happens to come out of her heart.
Jacob Banks - For My Friends
With a voice like Jacob Banks’ - big, brassy, brimming with soul - one could do a lot of things. Banks chooses to rejoice. For My Friends - Banks’ first project since his debut full-length album, Village - opens with “Parade”, an explosive protest song in which he snarls “Let it rain, it won’t rain on my parade”. It’s a defiantly optimistic start to a project released in the midst of racial turmoil and a pandemic. Banks’ voice is too unbridled to express anything in half-measures, so when he sings of exuberance like this, you have to believe it’s justified. However, the true pearls in For My Friends come when he’s able to reign his monstrous voice in. “Stranger” - a meter-agnostic celebration of perseverance and togetherness - finds his voice drowned in a vocoder rather than front and center, an appropriate choice for a song about the power of the many. If Banks has had a weakness in the past, it's been a lack of subtlety, an inability to find something smooth in the unadulterated grit of his voice. For My Friends’ closing track, “Rizla” - a vibey smoking anthem - is evidence that this soul singer has the capacity to be as suave as he is imposing.
Destin Conrad - Colorway
For a project by a 20-year-old, Colorway is incredibly confident. Destin Conrad got his start making viral Vine videos, before connecting with Kehlani, writing on several songs from her most recent album. On his debut project, he shows off exactly what Kehlani must have seen in him. Colorway has everything you'd expect from a contemporary R&B album by a young talent: slick vocals, Hip-Hop drums, rich harmonies, and even a rap feature (“LAZY (ft. SwaVay))”. What makes the project stand out is how effortlessly Conrad can float on top of the music. His ability to not only create gripping melodies and harmonies but also to deliver them in a way that is both precise yet off-handed on songs like “BILL$” is usually something that comes with a bit more age. As are his astute storytelling skills; “FRAUD” is a vivid duet with fellow R&B songwriter, Ambré, about a couple with big dreams that can’t seem to find their way out of tough times. It's a nuanced song that's able to go down incredibly smooth. Colorway is a short debut - a 14-minute collection of tracks that include 3 spoken interludes - but in that time, Conrad makes his claim as one of R&B’s soon-to-be stars.