Monday, July 9th, 2018

serpentwithfeet – cherubim

Today in unearthly beings…


Tim de Reuse: What do we make of a love song that jerks around in place like this one does — the awkward accent of the word “dee-vote” in the chorus, the way that Wise’s hummingbird vibrato darts in and out of the frame against all rhythms, the finale’s pointedly sinister bassline that gets punctuated by little bubbles of the word “boy” popping back and forth across the stereo field? Love is a “job,” but the over-enunciated chant of the chorus implies some kind of religious ceremony, not just a job but a duty. The key word in “I get to devote my life to him” is “get,” implying a kind of awe at having the opportunity at all, and as someone who grew up meticulously well-closeted and wondered for a very long time if I’d ever even have the opportunity to attempt romance — well, that line fucking stings! The more I listen to this, the more sense it makes that this kind of devotion, having once been beyond the wildest reaches of imagination but now palpably, physically real, is necessarily both something to be revered and something you could never prepare yourself for: a sacred, sinister, awkward mess.

Will Adams: “I get to devote my life to him” is already an unsettling way to frame one’s love for another, but “cherubim” makes it the refrain, and each repetition draws out its sinisterness. It’s a bit of a slog when standing alone from its album, but ultimately a more compelling take on the religiosity of desire than Years & Years’ usual fare.

Alfred Soto: I wish him the best, but his album’s a chore: well-meant tunelessness with a few good beats. Thanks to percussion distortions, a fragment of a string section, and a warped choir given Eno-worthy treatments, “cherubim” is among his sturdier performances. But obsession like Josiah Wise’s are no fun for the object of desire. Building an altar to masochism is his mission.

Jonathan Bogart: Tribal drumbeats I associate more with Scandinavian pop than Brooklyn auteurs (because thanks mostly to this site, I listened to more Scandinavian pop than Brooklyn auteurs in the early 10s) anchor a helium-moan declaration of devotion recognizable more to me in terms of religious than erotic passion. (Not that they’re mutually exclusive.) It’s a slight work, as songs go, but impressive in its singleminded communication of its one idea.

Katherine St Asaph: Katie Gately, per form, multitracks and distorts Josiah Wise’s limber vocals into the photo-negative of an Usher track, then Wise and producer mmph create an arrangement as if the negative’s been left out on a swamp floor for a year: dank, fecund, almost visceral in its devotion and need. It feels like it comes from a different world, a deeply serious one, where love and sex (the song’s quite explicit, in a Song of Solomon way) haven’t been made a joke by irony, apathy, and frivolity.

Jonathan Bradley: “Cherubim” is a secular love song that oozes through the modes and rituals of sanctity to build a lurking, eerie gospel: a devotional in parody, a claim to the profane that embraces it for the accordant physicality and earthliness. The swingeing bass moans and incantatory repetition amasses muck that wards away intrusions of kitsch or exploitation; serpentwithfeet remains an earnest presence even as a spectral one. Over the top he wails, his voice bent into strange forms, reminiscent of the angelic patterns carved by Anohni, for instance. His stage name suggests something gone wrong, formed contrary to nature; his music is drawn to the aberration.

Pedro João Santos: On paper, “Cherubim” reads as a token of gratitude and an oath of fidelity from one lover to another; when experienced, it’s virginal for a millisecond, before it revels in its gloriously demonic slant. “I get to be devoted to him” are words balancing disconcerting affection and honeyed intent — nearly eroded by repetition throughout its length, elevated by the hand-wringing, nervous cadence of a multilayered, disorienting chorus. It’s a display of love as unearthly as its eponymous creature, going on to show just how peerless serpentwithfeet remains in his domain of dramatic, intrinsically queer love, inextricably and inimitably his.

Vikram Joseph: Ominous minor chords, pitch-shifted synths, a serrated post-R&B shuffle and the dead-eyed worship of lines like “sewing love into you is my job” make “cherubim” an unsettling listen, coming off like Xiu Xiu slobbering noisy menace all over an Antony & The Johnsons devotional. Serpentwithfeet doesn’t just place his lover on a pedestal; in his own words, “I build your throne,” a towering edifice of obsession and desire in what sounds like a profoundly power-imbalanced relationship. The back half of the last Perfume Genius album touched on this sort of material, but Mike Hadreas’s boyish wonder and heart-stopping backstory kept his intensity from becoming disquieting. Clearly, that sense of disquiet here is intentional; it’s an impressive composition, unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, but not the easiest to actually enjoy listening to.

Maxwell Cavaseno: Gospel has always had a tradition of excess virtuosic floridity as tribute that when introduced into the world of the secular can often seem cartoonish and overdone. Think of someone such as Luther Vandross, who was pristinely expressive but in a way one could easily parody and make into a joke — yet would you want to hear it any other way from him? Serpentwithfeet has not escaped me as much as walked this sort of tightrope with this impeccable ability that slathers you to a point the songs beneath his vocal stylings are hard to get a feel for, like a meal utterly doused in condiments. “Cherubim” is the same, where his voice oozes over along with the baroque brass instrumentation smothering every potential chance for one to find room to breathe, leaving you both immersed and drowning all at once in the syrupy particularities. I can’t say it’s the most practical or enjoyable listening for me, but I couldn’t honestly tell you how else this song should exist.

Will Rivitz: Apocalyptic, spreading gleeful doom like salt in the fields — but it’s finally sunny in Seattle and I’ve had quite a good past few weeks, so this is a song I will say I “appreciate” to sound more sophisticated than I actually am and then not listen to for at least another six months.

John Seroff: To my ears, the nearest analogues to serpentwithfeet’s tremulous, dynamic voice and profound songwriting are Terence Trent D’Arby or Baby Dee, but the gothic queer fantasia that is soil sounds entirely sui generis, timely and vital. “Cherubim” is one of that album’s signature cuts: operatic, darkly foreboding, overstuffed with the frantic spasms of young love. There’s an explicitly performative desperation to the song, a bittersweet crystallization of the dawning, damning realization that what has been given can be taken away. It’s messy marching music for first time players of the oldest game.

Reader average: [9] (1 vote)

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2 Responses to “serpentwithfeet – cherubim”

  1. this is one of the best songs of the year w/o a doubt

  2. john is spot on

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