“The times that we’re living through have made me think, in so many different ways, large and small, about our obligations to one another,” says M. C. Taylor, frontman of Durham, North Carolina’s neo-folk, sometimes rock band, Hiss Golden Messenger. The band’s third track, “Hardlytown,” is available Tuesday (April 20), ahead of their upcoming studio album, Quietly Blowing It, due out June 25 via Merge Records.
Taylor continues, asking, “How much to give away? How much to keep for ourselves? How much is too much, and how much is not enough?” The lyrics detail a conversation between mother and son that the artist feels was his attempt to “reckon with the tension that exists between selflessness and selfishness.” The cross-generational back-and-forth reveals a disconnect in perception of the world around us and our role within it. As a father, Taylor works through his responsibility as a shaper of future citizens.
He bridges the dialogue, singing So forward, children / Never back down / What used to hurt you / Can’t hurt you now / The world feels broken—I ain’t joking, babe / Never back down.
“We all know some version of this conversation. We’re currently in the middle of it as a country and as a species,” he explains. “I have two children, and I’m trying to teach them about what it means to be, and the ways we all stand to benefit from being good neighbors. It’s sort of a simple lesson in theory but more complicated in practice.” He adds, “But then, I guess all good things are.”
“Sanctuary”—the first single from Quietly Blowing It—spent six weeks at the top of the Americana Radio Singles Chart. Last month, they shared a pensive track, “If It Comes in the Morning.” Taylor penned the song amidst the racial reckoning following a series of nationally highlighted instances of police brutality. It reminds weary listeners that the sun will rise again—even though Taylor admits he wasn’t feeling “particularly hopeful” at that moment.
Penned in the refuge of Taylor’s home studio, the lyrical content has grown increasingly resonant within the current context of normalized turbulence. Though some days the world was burning outside his window, Taylor “went looking for peace.” The songs from Quietly Blowing It are often introspective vignettes that just so happen to timestamp a pivotal moment in living history.
“These songs always circle back to the things that I feel like I have a handle on and the things that I’m not proud of about myself,” says Taylor. “When I think of the phrase ‘quietly blowing it,’ I think of all the ways that I’ve misstepped, misused my gifts, miscommunicated. ‘Born on the level, quietly blowing it.’ That’s what’s on my mind there. Always fuckin’ up in little ways.”
The forthcoming record follows Terms of Surrender (2019) was Grammy Award-nominated for Best Americana Album. Special guests and contributors on Quietly Blowing It include Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Tony Award-winning artist Anaïs Mitchell, Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow, Nashville guitar great Buddy Miller, and producer/musician Josh Kaufman of Bonny Light Horseman. The accompanying music video was directed by KidEthnic.
“It’s not exactly a record about the state of the world—or my world—in 2020, but more a retrospective of the past five years of my life, painted in a sort of impressionistic hues,” Taylor continues. “Maybe I had the presence of mind when I was writing Quietly Blowing It to know that this was the time to go as deep as I needed to in order to make a record like this. And I got the time required in order to do that.”
Pre-order Quietly Blowing It on CD, LP, and metallic blue Peak Vinyl, or wherever records are sold. All domestic vinyl pre-orders in the Merge store will automatically be entered to receive one of the lyric cards used in the “Hardlytown” video below.
Photo by Chris Frisina