Song of the Day: Hiss Golden Messenger – When The Wall Comes Down

photo by Matthew B. Thompson

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJ’s think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on The Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “When the Wall Comes Down” by Hiss Golden Messenger from their 2017 album, Hallelujah Anyhow, out Friday on Merge Records.

Hiss Golden Messenger – When the Wall Comes Down (MP3)

North Carolina project Hiss Golden Messenger has never been just one thing. Founder and frontman M.C. Taylor started out playing in SoCal hardcore band Ex-Ignota, but now plays music that’s about as far from hardcore as Henry Rollins is from shoegaze. Their influences — everything from Curtis Mayfield to The Band — are as wide-ranging as their music, which touches on everything from down-home blues to neo-psychedelia to starry-eyed folk. Their 2014 Merge Records debut and breakout album, Lateness of Dancers, incorporated the rich musical traditions of the Tar Heel state while still sounding completely fresh. The one thing that we can say about the band with absolute certainty (and ample excitement) is this: Hiss Golden Messenger are set to release their seventh album, Hallelujah Anyhow, on Friday.

Today’s hopeful Song of the Day, “When the Wall Comes Down,” fuses both political symbolism with images of personal growth. The question of the first line, accompanied solely by the strums of acoustic guitar, can’t be asked without conjuring the chaos of the current political climate: “What are you gonna do when the wall comes down?” But Taylor’s voice is far too gentle for this to be a straightforward political anthem. When he points to the artificiality of man-made boundaries — “it was built by man and you can tear it down” — he sings “tear it down” less like the rhetoric of an uprising, and more like an invitation to lay your burden down. Later in the song, Taylor suddenly declares, “I’m gonna sing just like a songbird,” electric guitars fly in, and it becomes clear that there’s even more at stake than an illusory divide between “them” and “us.” This is a song about the power structures that dictate lives, but it’s also a song about holding onto joy. These days, we need both of those things.

You can keep up with Hiss Golden Messenger on their website or Facebook page. And fortunately for our Seattle readers, Hiss Golden Messenger are coming to town in two months, playing the Tractor Tavern on Thursday, November 2. Check out a lyric video for “When the Wall Comes Down,” below.

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