Terms of Surrender, the latest album from folk band Hiss Golden Messenger, isn’t as gloomy as the title suggests. Instead, bandleader MC Taylor delivers a pop-influenced folk album with as much energy as it has introspection. Taylor looks inward, and outward, for inspiration on the album.
Some lyrics are simple, like those on “My Wing.” “No retreat/ no surrender/ make it tender/ make it lasting,” Taylor sings, managing to convey a sense of longing even through his simple choice of words, longing for the freedom of “an empty sky.” He challenges himself, asserting “no surrender” when the album itself is entitled Terms of Surrender. The line leaves you wondering what Taylor means by it.
“Old Enough to Wonder Why (East Side—West Side) is another song that’s a mystery. The song is hushed and without the urgency of “I Need a Teacher” or “Katy (You Don’t Have to be Good Yet).” This is much to the song’s strength, as Taylor’s restrained vocals grab you and invite you to listen carefully. The song’s tone is dark, aided by the thumping drum beat and electronic sounds. The inclusion of a banjo, however, reminds you that this is at heart a folk album, even as Taylor is straying into experimental territory. The song is enigmatic and wants you to “wonder why” Taylor is inviting us to “come and meet me on the east side.” It’s not for Taylor to answer that question though: it’s for the listener to wonder.
Taylor detours from his typical folksy-pop sound throughout the album but certainly does not abandon it. “Katy (You Don’t Have To Be Good Yet)” is Taylor singing about an expired love, or maybe a celebration of moving forward and not an elegy of the past. “You don’t love me like you used to,” Taylor sings with an incongruous upbeat energy that becomes clearer throughout the song. The song’s energetic tempo celebrates the future. “If you turn from the world” Taylor cautions, “There are colors you’ll never see.” Taylor’s voice and the instruments are somewhat subdued, though, showing the complex combination of feelings he explores on the entire record.
The album ends with the titular “Terms of Surrender,” where Taylor states clearly and forlornly “These are my terms of surrender.” Despite the initial statement, Taylor never explains what the terms are, and his feeling of loneliness is palpable through the soft acoustic guitar and piano. It concludes the album nicely, by leaving listeners to wonder what exactly he means in his words, but nevertheless relating to the emotion of the album.