Signing with Merge was the savviest move that M.C. Taylor could ever have made in support of his ongoing folk-rock project Hiss Golden Messenger. Everything he has released under the name to date has been on micro-indie labels like Tompkins Square and Paradise of Bachelors that have yet to earn the cultural cachet that the home of Arcade Fire and Wye Oak has achieved. And because through those prior LPs there was always something a little more polished and assured than we usually hear from small imprints, albums like Haw and Poor Moon had all the sonic trappings of a big budget major label release from the late ‘60s/early ‘70s: snappy drums, rich guitar work and a CCR/Grateful Dead-like boogie in their hips.
Intentionally or not, Taylor and co. have risen to the occasion with Lateness of Dancers. This 10-song collection leaves nothing to chance, hitting every emotional high and low with confidence and sparkling musicianship courtesy of a backing band to die for: guitarist William Tyler, Mountain Man member Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, Portastatic member (and brother of Merge co-founder Mac) Matt McCaughan and others. Each one takes to their individual roles and leaves some spirited performances in their collective wake: the tent revival sway of “Drum,” stripped-down Southern rock of “I’m A Raven” and the late afternoon haze of “Mahogany Dread” are particular highlights. There is little doubt that this going to be the album that brings Hiss Golden Messenger to a much bigger audience.
There is something that feels almost too comfortable on Lateness. Taylor stays in the same well-worn groove he has been grinding on for the past decade and shows no signs of looking for an exit strategy. Again, I chalk this up to the stakes at hand here. He’s on a bigger label now and needs to deliver the goods. He strives for nothing more than a late summer/early fall soundtrack to turn into a Pandora station for you dig through your CSA delivery or make coffee for some regular customers. After a while, it fades into the background and the station moves on to the rest of its RIYL algorithm playlist.