Album Review: Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee

heartlikealevee

4.5

An immediate wave of folk optimism was strummed into the ears of listeners this past July, when North Carolina singer/songwriter M.C. Taylor dropped Biloxi: the first golden message of the alt-Americana indie folk-rock collective Hiss Golden Messenger’s seventh record Heart Like A Levee. The major chord voicing’s on Mike Taylor’s capoed-up acoustic guitar ring out with a sonic altitude that astonishes and flourishes in a musical world of Dylan-esque vocal soul and upbeat, classic rock jams. When the full band kicks in on this stellar, instantly memorable opening track, listeners will think they’ve been transported to an Eagles song.  The electrified vibrations of the lingering lead guitar note rumble throughout the countryside vibes to make it clear that Hiss Golden Messenger is back with boiling, polished indie rock energy.

Heart Like A Levee was self-produced with the help of Brad and Phil Cook of Megafaun, Bon Iver’s drummer Matthew McCaughan, brass section Matt Douglas and Michael Lewis and backing vocalists Tift Merrit and Alexandra Sauser-Monning of Mountain Man. The album really catches fire with a smooth, trebly and palm muted electric guitar chord progression mixed with tender, hushed vocal power. Before you know it, the song becomes a party of popping snare drums and glaring saxophones.

The title track of the album is probably one of the most personal and honest Hiss Golden Messenger songs in the complete repertoire. Another acoustic driven tune, the melodic momentum seesaws in a rather neutral, indie folk ballad vibe for most of its lifespan but cranks up the funk and pure rock dynamism with whirling keyboards and a heavy drumbeat. Taylor opened up in a Merge Records press release about “a load of guilt” that he could “just barely lift” touring as a musician while bills piled up in his family’s home. Just like the melody seesaws in the music of the song, he makes it evident in the lyrics that his heart is surely fluttering, pleading “go easy on me I’m not doing too well. Do you hate me honey as much as I hate myself?”

It’s hard to pinpoint a truly signature Hiss Golden Messenger song. Whether it’s an energetic alt Americana full band anthem or an acoustically focused, stoned out, ominous chord progression, M.C. Taylor has the songwriting skills and various musical styles to prove his band Hiss Golden Messenger as a top choice on the list of current indie folk rock stars. One example of the latter of the above mentioned music styles, was the title track of the previous album Lateness Of Dancers. But on Heart Like A Levee, it’s Cracked Windshield that yields the cooling come down and fresh scent of October winds approaching. The opening line of the song is an extraordinary vocal take and a very special, extremely raw Hiss Golden Messenger moment that will truly stay with you even when the headphones aren’t pressed hard against your ears.

To complete his masterful hold on all styles, tempos, rhythms and folk rock energy, Hiss Golden Messenger brings a cowboy-esque, electric groove on track seven As The Crow Flies. On top of fiery, bold electric guitar layers, Taylor delivers a singing tone that’s almost conversational. Your brain will fry with excitement the first time you are presented with the major energy shift at the chorus as the deep bluesy soul vocals hop along with the octave stretching keyboard progression.

From start to finish, this album rocks flawlessly hard. Buy it, stream it, do whatever you have to do to let your soul be absorbed into the seventh installment of M.C. Taylor’s catalog of golden messages.

Scott J. Herman