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Might it be possible that the end and beginning of the world rest at the lip of the ocean?
Watch serpentwithfeet traverse its shore on his new single and video for “Fellowship,” off the forthcoming album “DEACON” (out March 26), and the answer washes in on waves, a whispered, incantatory “yes.”
A warmth emanates through a xylophone and a plucky, bell-laden rhythm. Ambient synth (minor at the beginning, tantamount to serpentwithfeet’s characteristic melancholy) hovers underneath. The tambourine and hollow, clicky beat get the head moving before a word can be spoken. It’s immediately more than a dance party; one gets the feeling of being awoken in the middle of the night by those you love most as they venture with you toward the stars outside the sea. The floor under you becomes dislocated while you rush to the beach, witnessing incandescent, spectral light from the sky, and the song makes you run faster. Your center of gravity sways. By the chorus, the texture collages into uncontrollable, soft, group-party movement, so there’s no use ascribing language to the celebration; just turn it on.
The three voices and producers — serpentwithfeet and his scaly vibrato, Sampha and his rich, exquisitely muted falsetto, and the ad-libs of Lil Silva which pop in the back of the mix — assemble into the shape of a small choir. You can almost hear their laughter as they phrase the lyrics, which detail the minute moments (“Our obsession with Prosecco,” “Christmas films in July with you”) that come with being in your thirties, with a gentleness reserved for a Black queer positionality in which the structure of the world renders intimacy continually threatened.
“I’m spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.” The influences here are poetic, owing to both of Danez Smith’s collections: “Don’t Call Us Dead” and “Homie” — whose curtain-call “acknowledgements” contains the stunning line, “at the end of the world, let there be you, my world.” There’s some Toni Morrison “Jazz” in there as well as a dash of Lucille Clifton’s “lucy and her girls” (“Lucy is the ocean / extended by / her girls”), which, altogether, form the composite of this moment for queer Black friendship and unending love. Listeners are placed in the center of their echo. It’s a salve; per Alice Walker, wound felt and medicine conjured in response.
Black queer playwright Donja R. Love’s “one in two” offers this line: “Don’t be far away.” In Kordae Jatafa Henry’s video, this is made visual: Over a scene of two lovers in billowing, translucent dress, the water moves as their faces do, in and out of a singular, so-near-breathtaking kiss. Their audience assumes the intermediary role between them, the world, and their love as they let the song inhabit the space created by the intersection. Fear scarcely has a place in these three and a half minutes, because if anything could will disaster away, and retrieve the glow of one’s chosen family, it’s this.
“I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends,” is an end-of-battle cry, even when the war wages so long it’s past understanding. And to fade out of the video, this lifted zone, serpentwithfeet and his lover turn away after an interlaced hug, wading knee-deep, hand in hand, out into the water.
— Staff writer Alejandro C. Eduarte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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