Hiss Golden Messenger‘s MC Taylor is most widely recognized within a specific musical space: Americana, loosely, or the broad and sometimes hard to define realm of indie folk. He’s a singer/songwriter in the classic sense, building narratives and a warm aesthetic from both a tradition of troubadours that have come before him and a particular knack for lyricism that poses greater questions than it offers answers. But while Hiss Golden Messenger is the most prolific of his projects at around a dozen albums, it followed an early foray into hardcore with Ex-Ignota and a more psychedelic alt-country sound in The Court and Spark, each of which showcased much different textural and aesthetic avenues for the California-born, North Carolina-based musician, all of which seemed to suggest that his sound has always been something of a moving target.
The introduction of Revelators Sound System, an atmospheric jazz funk project with Spacebomb Records house bassist Cameron Ralston, is proof of that searching sensibility. Comprising four lengthy instrumentals, the album draws from myriad influences ranging from 1970s jazz fusion—particularly Bitches Brew-era Miles and Herbie Hancock’s vein melting Head Hunters sessions—psychedelic soul, funk and dub, right on down to its block-lettered dubplate-style cover art. And these musicians absolutely cook. From opening track “Grieving,” they stir up an energy and momentum that’s vibrant enough to drive an entire album’s worth of songs, effects-laden horns swirling around a heavy bass groove and hard-driving rhythm that ultimately gives out and lets the back end of the track drift out into space. It speaks volumes that the smoke rising off the edge of that rhythm seems just as thick even when the bottom drops out.
In titling the first track “Grieving,” Revelators Sound System offer a subtle suggestion as to the nature of what drives the music they’ve created. In a press release, Ralston says, “We only ever talked about what emotion we were going for,” and there’s as much reflection and mourning here as there is an attempt to channel something cosmic via pure sound. In the delicate ambience and sustained notes of “Collected Water,” the duo capture something more fragile and vulnerable, whereas on “Bury the Bell,” there’s a kind of open-ended awe in its amorphous waves of sound, communing with Eno on the moon.
Meditations on grief—however electric the interpretation—do bookend the album, however, and on the closing track, it’s a grief that’s at once universal and specific. “George,” which the group wrote after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020, never loses its groove even as its strings and saxophone melodies seek to express a deep sense of mourning and sadness through minor-key beauty—a grief that can’t always be so easily articulated. It’s not protest music in the most literal sense, but it uses that pain and anger as a platform for finding beauty and catharsis. Revelators Sound System aren’t letting the listener off without feeling something—sadness, anger, spirituality or simply being moved by the sound itself.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.