Hiss Golden Messenger frontman and chief protagonist M.C. Taylor has always been drawn to a sound best described as a low cast kilter. It began with his tenure in San Francisco’s The Court & Spark, a band whose folk-pop leanings he’d resurrect when he founded his current outfit some ten years ago. Now, with seven albums under their collective belt, Hiss Golden Messenger has become an exceptional example of how an unassuming stance can win hearts and minds simply by following their own casual dictates.
It’s accurate to say that the band’s new release, Hallelujah Anyhow, is as offhanded an effort as the title implies. They settle in for an easy saunter and shuffle, a breezy, agreeable sprawling sound that’s careful not to make any unreasonable demands. It’s is easy listening music practically by definition, and with songs such as “Jenny of the Roses,” “Caledonia, My Love,” “Jaw” and “Harder Rain” serving as the template, it makes for an amiable effort indeed. A occasional emphatic outlay aside — the deliberate pacing of “Lost Out in the Darkness” “Domino (Time Will Tell)” and “I Am the Song” being the most obvious examples — this is music to groove by on a cloudless afternoon, cruising the highway with the top down and no particular destination in mind. Or to put it another way, a hallelujah when one is hardly expected.
Ultimately, Hiss Golden Messenger’s inviting new album offers a lesson in how to make unblemished music without adhering to expectation. It’s casual and carefree, all surface sheen with nothing of deep consequence to lend disturbance or distraction. That is, in fact, the essence of the band’s signature sound, and if it’s pinned them below the radar, then hopefully word will spread courtesy of those they’ve charmed along the way. They certainly deserve no less.