Singer-songwriter M.C. Taylor didn’t set out to make a “pandemic record” when he went into the studio to record his 2021 LP, Quietly Blowing It. But looking back on his twelfth album under the moniker Hiss Golden Messenger, he hears an undeniable product of the times.
“I tried to be really clear with everybody that that’s not what I was doing,” Taylor says. “I was making something that I was hoping would feel sort of timeless or out of time. I think what I realized was I can say that all I want, but you can’t help but hear that record through that particular lens … [it] would not exist in the way that it does had we not been living through what we were living through.”
Taylor was just as intentional in writing and recording the new Hiss Golden Messenger album, Jump for Joy. Released Aug. 25 via indie juggernaut Merge Records, Taylor’s latest is a reaction to the introspective nature and subdued sound of the album’s lockdown-era predecessor.
“I wanted the songs to feel more outward-facing, to feel more ‘up,’ and to reflect what the band is capable of,” he says. “I think that giving myself that assignment came in part from thinking about the type of record Quietly Blowing It was … [a] very internal and inward-facing record. I probably couldn’t or wouldn’t make a record like that again. I felt like I reached the end of that particular road.”
To that end, the new album retains the burnished folk-pop feel of other Hiss Golden Messenger releases while infusing it with a brighter energy. That much is apparent from the outset, as opener “20 Years and a Nickel” launches with an easygoing pulse that segues into the frisky “Feeling Eternal,” whose chugging tempo propels the song into one of the album’s catchiest refrains.
The jubilant mood carries through the rest of Jump for Joy. The poppy “I Saw the New Day in the World” feels like a long sigh of contentment, while “Nu-Grape” injects a dose of spirited gospel and the title track carries it through with a bit of New Orleans reverie. There’s a reflective feel to “Jesus is Bored” and “My Old Friends,” but even these songs — like the rest of Taylor’s rich and rewarding new LP — have a thread of hope that keeps the positive momentum on track.
In approaching Jump for Joy, Taylor felt he needed to keep the project self contained. To that end, he produced the album himself and used his touring band. The only guests on the record are Aofie O’Donovan and Amy Helm, who add backing vocals to the aforementioned “Nu-Grape,” and vocalist Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats, who joins Taylor and O’Donovan on “The Wondering.” But even these outsiders are all established friends of Taylor’s.
“I had such a clear vision of where I wanted to go with this that I felt like bringing anyone else in from outside would be more of a hindrance than anything,” he says. “I had a sort of clarity about what I was chasing that made making the record relatively easy. My memory of recording this record is mostly that it was just really fun … at no point did we ever feel like we were digging ditches.”
To bring the album to life, Taylor headed out from the band’s home base of Durham, North Carolina to the Sonic Ranch studio near El Paso, Texas, with go-to engineer Scott Hirsch, guitarist Chris Boerner, bassist Alex Bingham, keyboardist Sam Fribush and drummer Nick Falk.
“I knew that I wanted to leave Durham because I wanted us all to be in a place that was unfamiliar, that might push us toward a sort of musical impulsiveness, a musical freshness that might be a little harder to conjure on our home turf,” Taylor says. “So I knew all along that we were going to go somewhere. I wasn’t sure exactly where.”
Now it’s time for Taylor and his band to hit the road and share songs from Jump for Joy and also highlight songs from across the many Hiss Golden Messenger albums he’s released since he and Hirsch started the project in 2007. Taylor can’t say exactly what shape the set list will take on this round of shows.
“We make it a point to not ever play the same set because it keeps us on our toes, keeps things interesting,” he says. “That’s one of the primary determining factors in putting together a setlist. … We’re trying to combine [the songs] into lists that seem kind of varied, that are going to touch on as many of the different emotions, themes or rhythms that we can.”
ON THE BILL: Hiss Golden Messenger with Adeem the Artist. 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Tickets here.