There is something wholly unique about songwriter M.C. Taylor’s music with Hiss Golden Messenger. While built on a foundation of folk and Americana, his arrangements whisper subtle hints of soul, classic rock, country and gospel music, while his voice wraps around these sound collages and focuses them in gratifying ways. His latest album, Quietly Blowing It, is an impressionistic collection of songs Taylor describes as a retrospective of his last five years of life. While there are introspective moments throughout, Quietly Blowing It transcends nostalgia, coasting along on willowy melodies that flirt with somberness and uplift.
Opening an album with the line “Were you happy?” sets a personal tone for the record, whether Taylor is directing the line at someone close to him, or himself. It can be admittedly difficult to parse out Taylor’s lyrics at times, though the drawl and timbre of his voice communicate the emotion and vibe of the songs even when the words don’t come through clearly. This opening track, “It Will If We Let It”, uses his voice, along with the keys and a looping drum track to channel Marvin Gaye-esque 70’s R&B through Taylor’s Americana filter, creating a chill and soulful blend.
There is a consistent warmth across the record, whether on the thumping country beat of “The Great Mystifier” or the hopeful lament of “Painting Houses”. Though there’s a sense of loneliness and being lost in the lyrics (“I’m stuck on the roof, still painting houses”), the addition of horns and saxophone brighten the tone.
While the songs on the album are quieter for the most part, tracks like “Hardlytown” and single “Sanctuary” kick up the drums a notch with richer harmonies to create some grooving folk rock that really utilizes the full HGM band. There’s also some echoes of classic rock in “Way Back in the Way Back”, which also could be considered one of the more topical songs on the album, as Taylor sings “Up with the mountains, down with the system that keeps us in chains”. While the album doesn’t directly address any specific people or events, it does evoke a sense of timeliness for when it was written, as in the stripped-down title track, where Taylor denotes “The shape of things don’t look so good. On the TV, there’s a riot going on.” Yet musically, the song is much more likely to make one want to drift into a relaxing sunny day than join a protest.
There’s a breeziness to this record that makes it a perfect listen for golden afternoons and mellow times, and listening to it during silent moments will help with absorbing all the fine nuances of each cut’s arrangement. It’s this deeper listening that allows the fuzzy organ and elegiac guitar line to bring out the gospel elements of “If It Comes in the Morning”, or that will help you notice the 60’s soul rhythm in “Glory Strums (Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner)”.
Quietly Blowing It is a rich, emotionally complex record. From Taylor’s own perspective:
“These songs always circle back to the things that I feel like I have a handle on and the things that I’m not proud of about myself. When I think of the phrase ‘quietly blowing it,’ I think of all the ways that I’ve misstepped, misused my gifts, miscommunicated. ‘Born on the level, quietly blowing it.’ That’s what’s on my mind there. Always fuckin’ up in little ways.”
The record is relatable and human in its honesty, and layered in its musicality. Enjoy it when it’s released on June 25th, and listen to the pre-released tracks below: