Prior to becoming a master of all things roots-folk–Americana, Hiss Golden Messenger main man MC Taylor was a member of hardcore-punk band Ex-Ignota. It might sound like a fairly rapid change of direction, but he’s not the first man to re-route a career.
John Lydon may have made his name as the gobbiest, brattiest, punk frontman of all, Johnny Rotten in the Sex Pistols, but most people would probably accept it was as the leader of innovative post-punk band, Public Image Limited, that he made his most interesting music.
Beck started off his career as a genre-blending enigma, often mis-catergorised as the King Of The Slackers despite a formidable work-rate, his heart-breaking, heart-broken, efforts on Sea Change and Morning Phase are utterly unrecognisable from the man who had two-turn tables and a microphone, let alone his unlikely departure into funk that was Midnight Vultures.
Ryan Adams is best known as the poster boy of alt-country, but has dabbled in punk-rock and sci-fi metal. Fleetwood Mac were a blues band, before they realised they’d sell a lot more records if they had a pop career, and as a former member of Busted, Charlie Simpson was one of the most unlikely front-men of a post-hardcore band, unless of course you remember Paul from S-Club 7’s other band, Skua, who drew comparison to the likes of…ahem…Limp Bizkit and Rage Against The Machine!
The most famous musical chameleon of all though has always been David Bowie, a man who’s reinvented himself more times than many bands have played shows, and tying us rather neatly back around, he’s a big fan of Hiss Golden Messenger, we don’t just make this up as we’re going along you know…
HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER
Hiss Golden Messenger is a vehicle for the music of M.C Taylor, or as his label Merge put it he’s the bands “craggy voice patriach.” M.C Taylor is a former PE teacher, who “looked insane and didn’t know the rules of any sports!” Working with M.C on and off are long term collaborator Scott Hirsch, William Tyler of Lambchop and The Silver Jews fame, and Phil Cook, a member of Megafaun and collaborator with Justin Vernon & Matthew E White. Basically he keeps very good company indeed!
Rootsy, Americana music, plays out behind M.C’s tales of being “a grown up US male with a couple of kids and a marginally successful career. The music fluctuates from down-beat near acoustic numbers, to ho-downing full-band tracks. His voice has been compared to the likes of Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bill Callahan, and to my ears he’s a kindred spirit of Jonathan Wilson both vocally and musically.
North Carolina, for sure and we think we’ve tracked his current location down to the city of Durham. Which actually produces a lot more excellent music than you’d probably imagined, home to Iron & Wine, The Mountain Goats and the excellent Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Following the demise of MC and Scott Kirsch’s old band, The Count & Spark, the first Hiss Golden Messenger album, Country Hai East Cotton, came out on Taylor’s own label in 2008. They signed to Black Maps and released Bad Debt in 2010, before two albums on Paradise Of Bachelors. That impressive back catalogue led to deal with Merge Records, and the superb Lateness Of Dancers came out on Merge earlier this year.
Lateness Of Dancers is a frankly fantastic record! It combines a classic, rootsy-americana sound with enough new ideas to lift it above a pastiche of the past. His voice is rich, warm and utterly charming, his lyrics are also excellent. He confronts the sort of problem every father faces, “When Saturday comes, I’m gonna rock my soul. I’m might get a little crazy, I’m gonna drink some whisky” it’s rebellion on a very sensible level! He manages to be rueful and contemplative without ever getting too downbeat and miserable. The music too is a perfect balancing act, sometimes downbeat, relying on little more than a vocal and an acoustic guitar, whilst others he lets the quality of this musical friends shine through, the spectacular organ that closes Lucida, the very tasteful banjo in the title track or the the impressively meaty guitar riff in I’m A Raven (Shake Children) A majestic album from a musician at the top of his game.
As much as a man’s love for his children is a wonderful thing, the use of a child talking as a vocal sample is a pet hate, the only exception to that rule is the Cass McCombs album, where the child is creepy and dark and talks about smoking crack so it works beautifully! Also he introduces the penultimate track with “I think we’ve got one more in us.” Basically we are having to be incredibly picky to find anything not to love about this guy!
Hiss Golden Messengers latest album, Lateness of Dancers, is out now on Merge Records.
Hiss Golden Messenger tour the UK in February next year, including a date at London’s Bush Hall. He’s also supporting Ben Howard on his December tour.