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Describing the Durham-based Hiss Golden Messenger is like trying to grasp a forgotten word: It's always on the tip of your tongue, but hard to speak. Songwriter and bandleader M.C. Taylor's music is at once familiar, yet impossible to categorize: Elements from the American songbook-the steady, churning acoustic guitar and mandolin, the gospel emotion, the eerie steel guitar tracings, the bobbing and weaving organ and electric piano-provide the bedrock for Taylor's existential ruminations about parenthood, joy, hope, and loneliness-our delicate, tightrope balance of dark and light-that offer fully engaged contemporary commentary on the present. And then there's an indescribable spirit and movement: Hiss Golden Messenger's music grooves. There's nothing else quite like it.
For over ten years, Taylor has spearheaded this prolific, perpetually evolving group. He's toured and recorded relentlessly, earning devotees along the roads, deep in festival pits, and across the seas, delivering earnest performances that morph from jammy freakout to private prayer in a matter of measures.
"The work that I do requires me to be in a certain emotional place," says Taylor. "My music depends first and foremost on being in a heightened emotional state and putting my vulnerability on display."
This vulnerability is also central to Taylor's steadily growing fanbase, which continues to discover universal themes in his deeply personal work. The critical acclaim and attention for Hiss Golden Messenger-including features in The Atlantic and The New Yorker, glowing album and live reviews in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Consequence of Sound, and barn-burning performances on Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with Seth Meyers-affirm the emotional power of Taylor's work.
This raw emotion is especially apparent on Hiss Golden Messenger's new album, Terms of Surrender. Out September 20 on Merge Records, Terms follows Taylor's journey through a tumultuous year of trauma and psychological darkness, hoping and working towards redemption and healing, and the conflicting draw of home and movement. "Another year older," Taylor sings on album opener "I Need a Teacher." "Debt slightly deeper. Paycheck smaller. Goddamn, I need a teacher."
Later, Taylor tracks the complex dynamic between father and grown son on "Cat's Eye Blue," singing, "Is this wicked word too bad to be spoken? You let the heart attack in. One taste and it's broken." He later pivots towards his relationship with his own daughter on "Happy Birthday, Baby."
Happy birthday, baby
Go love your brother now
It's a strange gift, maybe
Girl, you know me better-better than I know myself
I'm trying to repay you
All these miles that I roam
And when I'm far away, baby
Know that I love you and sing this little song