Hiss Golden Messenger – Bad Debt

Bad Debt

Hiss Golden Messenger

Bad Debt

Released: 14 January 2014 (Paradise of Bachelors)

By Ruben de la Huerga

Mossy stones, overused candlesticks, a firelit moon. These are but a few of the images the acoustic folk album Bad Debt conjures up in its welcome visit upon ones ears. But by the end of its journey (as with a lot of good art), it is God and love that are the main takeaways. Most rock criticism is never better than the words that the artist decides to accompany the album with her/himself, so I’ll bite some of M.C. Taylor’s own words here. “The record is about my God: that is, whether I have one, and whether there is a place for me in this world. I don’t go to church, and I am not saved. I can party too.” Though we may not all be religious, I think there is a universal sentiment within the songs here, of simultaneously feeling love and doubt toward life and the way the world works. On one of the most ear-grabbing moments of the record, Taylor achingly cries out, “But why pledge my mind, my body and soul / When they don’t give a shit about me?” on “No Lord is Free.” This beautiful confusion and ambiguity becomes contagious. The shyly blasphemous “Jesus Shot Me in the Head” is another standout in this regard, with desperate claims that, “He loves us all / But the ones that fall / Hold a special place in his ranks… Least I hope this is how it goes.” The way Taylor finds grace and elegance in the most precarious and uncertain of times is one of Bad Debt’s greatest strengths.

But all of this lyrical power wouldn’t be nearly as convincing were it not wrapped in such an attractive musical package. Bad Debt is the definition of intimacy, with these songs quietly performed to a cassette recorder in a kitchen while his newborn son slept in the other room. With that, these pieces can be viewed as lullabies of sorts. There’s a sting in Taylor’s voice that drains away my personal worries and lets me become immersed in his stories, his pain. I really, really like his voice. The guitar playing can be exquisite as well. The lucid chords at the end of the chorus on “The Serpent is Kind” come to mind as an example. Overall, I’d say that the album functions fantastically as mood music, with a few truly arresting moments. When looking to steep yourself in music that’s both relaxing yet a little painful, Bad Debt is the place to go.

To me, this album represents the glory there is to be had in taking a chance. I didn’t really like this album art, which is my usual prerequisite for checking a record out. I also usually avoid folk throwbacks, thinking that the best albums of a genre are usually around the genesis of a sound. Despite those things, I came into this year with a new resolve to approach music before reviews and genre-tags get in the way, to try and explore this art in a purer way. Two and a half weeks in and I’m already reaping the rewards of this resolution, for this album is truly precious. It’s not game-changing, or the next big artistic movement in music, or even the next big thing in folk. And I’m still not fond of the cover art. In spite of all these things that I usually obsess over, I found a sound and a man that I truly connected with. I feel like I’ve kind of gotten to know M.C. Taylor, just from listening over the week. When I listen to my favorite track, “Straw Man Red Sun River Gold,” I almost feel like I’m visiting a friend. At the end of the day, I think that music comes down to connection, connecting ideas, sounds and most of all people. And in respect to the latter, Bad Debt succeeds greatly.

DISCLAIMER: This album was not originally released in 2014. It was robbed of an audience in 2010 when most of the stock for the record was burned in the London riots. I think the discussion of what’s “new” or not is a little unnecessary at times. It’s likely new to all of our ears, and I think that’s what matters.

Rating: Like It

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