Release Date: Sep 20, 2019
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It's a myth that most artists need a crisis in order to be creative, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest bad times can trigger someone's need to express themselves. M.C. Taylor has been steadily productive as a songwriter and recording artist with his project Hiss Golden Messenger, creating a strong and expressive body of work since making his debut with Country Hai East Cotton in 2009.
Given his two decades at the indie rock coalface in the likes of hardcore act Ex-Ignota and Californian country rockers The Court & Spark, you'd forgive frontman MC Taylor for seeing the dark side of life every once in a while. But while his lyrics obliquely catalogue the loves and lows of 12 allegedly turbulent months, Taylor's output remains the breezy soul grooves so successfully realised on 2017's Hallelujah Anyhow - all The Band-esque organ (I Need A Teacher's good time lollop), electric piano (My Wing) and gently rolling thunder funk (the swampy Whip). Folk, blues and gospel all merge together in perfect harmony - the jagged edges of earlier HGM releases increasingly nowhere to be seen - and the effect is a lush one, an effortlessly serene serving of spirited, even spiritual, Americana where the rhythm section stretches out for miles and smiles.
After all the positivity that was espoused on 2017's Hallelujah Anyhow, it would have been fair to have thought that Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor had made his peace with all comers. So it's something of a surprise that Taylor describes 2018 as a desperate year, not one to only smell the roses. The batch of songs that Taylor penned for Terms Of Surrender echo of jailhouse confessions, and are ones that there was no initial intent to set to music.
The phrase "terms of surrender" implies defeat, but surrender can mean also liberation. On his fourth album for Merge Records, Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor splits the difference between the two meanings of the phrase as he tries to make sense of his own increasingly complicated life. Working within his established roots-rock sound, he explores the heaviest questions--how to be an artist, a parent, a citizen--and realizes that there may be fewer and fewer answers as the years go by.
T he prolific MC Taylor is a North Carolina-based musician with a sonorous but easy-going mission: to transform his inner questing into what sounds like mellow southern country-rock tunes, delivered in the off-hand manner of Dylan and cut through with humid soul. Taylor's spiritually restless ballads remain down-to-earth as he tries to square the lifestyle of a touring troubadour with his responsibilities as a father, husband and human being. Terms of Surrender finds him grappling with more doubt and self-excoriation than usual, adding more roll, more electric piano and more textural detail to his already expansive roots music.
E leven albums in as many years suggest MC Taylor has no issues with writers' block, that he must be in a constant state of productivity. Yet Terms of Surrender arrived not through clarity, but what Taylor has called a "fog of depression" - he wrote the songs, he said, as therapy, creating "a last will and testament". That might lead you to suspect Terms of Surrender of being unlistenably bleak, but as often as not, Taylor is searching for hope rather than wallowing in despair.