Last month, North Carolina folk-rock band Hiss Golden Messenger announced their latest full-length project Terms of Surrender with a moving celebration of their home state’s school employee protests, “I Need a Teacher.” Now frontman M.C. Taylor turns away from public advocacy and towards private mysticism on the new album’s second single, “Cat’s Eye Blue.”
As the band’s quasi-religious name indicates, Hiss Golden Messenger have never shied away from a deep-seated spirituality in their music. Their last album was called Hallelujah Anyhow, and angels have been known to crop up in their lyric sheets. “Cat’s Eye Blue” has a cryptic title (does it refer to the gemstone, flower, or a cat’s literal blue eyes?) befitting its equally inscrutable lyrics. “Cat’s eye blue sky, let go / Let the light of the moon open your eyes,” Taylor sings as a refrain, winking at pantheism. The ambient production incorporates field recordings of crickets and dripping water, with the only moving thing in the stillness a steady, hollow-sounding backbeat. The song doesn’t build to an epiphany; rather, it captures the first step of revelation, the heightened state of awareness that comes with quiet nights in lonely places. Muhammad in his cave; St. Anthony in his desert.
In a statement, Taylor hints at what weighed on him as he wrote “Cat’s Eye Blue.” He says: “I sing about fathers—my own, specifically—because I almost lost mine during the writing of this record. He’s still here—I hear him outside playing with my kids right now—but I’ve been thinking about him a lot this past year.” The song is suffused with mourning, though it affirms that there is end to grief. “Daddy, take down your sorrow,” Taylor sings, but what is revealed to them in the moonlight remains between them.
Listen to “Cat’s Eye Blue” below and revisit Hiss Golden Messenger’s 2016 Paste Studio session further down. Terms of Surrender is out Sept. 20 on Merge Records.