Hiss Golden Messenger
The Dead Tongues
Lateness of Dancers is the fifth full-length from Hiss Golden Messenger. It's an open, confident, immediate album, and it feels, at times, like a direct response to the darkness of M.C. Taylor's last record, 2013's Haw, or to the searching of 2010's Bad Debt, the stunning acoustic LP he made at his kitchen table shortly after the birth of his son. Lateness of Dancers was recorded in a tin-roofed barn outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina, last fall and includes many of Taylor's longtime collaborators, like Phil and Brad Cook of Megafaun, the guitarist William Tyler, and his erstwhile recording partner Scott Hirsch. Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man contributes backing vocals; her tender, wooly voice both complements and challenges Taylor's.
The record takes its name from a Eudora Welty story, which is noteworthy not because of its origins—although there are hints of Welty in Taylor's work, and not just Welty but Flannery O'Connor and Faulkner and Barry Hannah and Larry Brown and the whole pantheon of brutal and exquisite southern writers—but because Taylor is the type of person who recognizes the beauty in a phrase like that. It is a record about self-discovery and self-knowledge, and how impossible it is to outsmart yourself. I don't know how you learn a lesson like that, except the hard way. "The misery of love is a funny thing / The more it hurts / The more you think / You can stand a little pain," he sings on "Mahogany Dread," one of Lateness' most telling tracks. These are the kinds of lies we tell ourselves to feel the things we want to feel, even when those pleasures are buried in a whole lot of hurt.
Eventually, though, the lies stack up and become blinding, like snowflakes on a windshield. What's a person supposed to do On the swinging, groove-heavy "I'm a Raven (Shake Children)," Taylor—now evoking the story of Noah—sings "Maybe I could see it as a peaceful world" in a way that indicates to me that, in fact, he probably can't. Still, over and over, Taylor subverts that creeping darkness, turns it into something useful, defines it and defangs it and transforms it; Lateness of Dancers is, against all odds, an optimistic record. I hear so much hopefulness in how he sings the word "love" toward the end of "Day O Day (A Love So Free)"—I picture him opening his mouth and it just sort of falling out whole, it's that unencumbered—or in the coppery warmth of "Lucia," when Taylor tells us she was beautiful in a way that makes me giddy.
It seems unlikely to me that there will be another record this year that does this work, or does it this well. Lateness of Dancers is a deliverance from the self, to the self. From Taylor to us.