PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Hiss Golden Messenger: Bad Debt

Bad Debt is as likely to serve folklorists as it was to have been delivered by one.

Hiss Golden Messenger

Bad Debt

Label: Paradise of Bachelors
US Release Date: 2014-01-14
UK Release Date: 2014-01-13

Given his training as a folkorist, Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor might appreciate the lengthy route Bad Debt took in getting its proper release (but probably not). Taylor recorded the album's songs on cassette in his kitchen in 2009 and 2010 not long after becoming a father. The original version of the record was assembled, but most of the copies were destroyed in the London warehouse fire a year later. Taylor, with Scott Hirsch (both from Ex-Ignota and the Court & Spark), continued on, re-recording some of this music in more expansive forms and releasing it as series of quality albums. Now Bad Debt gets a slightly expanded release and, hopefully, a proper warehouse.

It's not the circuitous route to release that particularly ties Taylor's folkore studies to Bad Debt. The album itself draws on the sorts of traditions that lend themselves to home-taping. I almost expect that Taylor Alan Lomax-ed himself on this one. The songs are rustic but developed, sparse but not lacking. Musically, Taylor situates his vocals and his acoustic guitar in a fairly broad “folk” lineage, but tied more to nameless performers than to any well-labeled tradition.

None of that should suggest that Bad Debt functions as an academic exercise. Taylor's performances come through as a natural fit. It's hard to separate the performance from the songwriting, where Taylor tackles a variety of traditional topics, particularly faith. The album doesn't stick strictly to one spiritual tradition, but it tends toward Christian imagery. It opens with “Balthazar's Song”, presumably -- but not necessarily – a reference to one of the Magi, but it speaks as much as a request as it does as an offering.

Taylor's reflections on faith are seldom simple, and there's usually a bit of conflict in his work. Perhaps the best example of this tension comes with “Jesus Shot Me in the Head” (also one of the disc's best songs). Here we see the gap between the singer in the song and Taylor as writer. Taken at its surface level, “Jesus” delivers an unusual but straightforward conversion narrative. The conversion takes place in a Motel 6 and, rather than seeing the light or something similar, the singer is shot in the head to come to Jesus. The delivery is direct and earnest, but Taylor's lyrics suggest something more. There's a sense that the key part of conversion is a turn to proper behavior (as defined largely by vices given up). It doesn't always hold up, and the singer seems ultimately to be seeking a way through the pearly gates. The performance is a song about coming to Jesus; the song is a reflection on both the why and the sentiment behind conversion. The “Least I hope this is how it goes” is less certain than, say, Paul in Damascus. The addition of “since I'm just 'bout out of breath” might refer to a singer running out of lung power for a given song or it might refer to a person at the end of his life, ditching his life to try to get somewhere better.

This sort of complexity supports much of Bad Debt. Coupling this writing with simple and effective music, Taylor creates something memorable. It's as likely to serve folklorists as it was to have been delivered by one.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.