Joseph Terrell: Good for Nothing Howl | ★★★½ | Sleepy Cat Records | May 5

Good for Nothing Howl release show at Steel String Brewery’s 10th Anniversary Celebration | Saturday, May 20 | Pluck Farm, Mebane

Good for Nothing Howl, the first solo album from Mipso’s Joseph Terrell, takes its concept from the imprecise boundary between human language and sound, articulated meaning and an animalistic cry.

The album, as its pastoral imagery would suggest, was born in the spring. As Terrell, now based in Durham, explains, he had been moving around, crashing with friends, briefly quitting writing and playing altogether. But the onset of spring in 2021 inspired him to establish a daily writing routine: each morning he would drag a chair under a tree in the yard and “spend the morning outside with a guitar.”

The album unfolds as one’s thoughts might in such circumstances: stray images wrap themselves in associative frills and vague memories, and half-registered sentiments congeal. Confessional yet enigmatic, the lyrics are some of the best of Terrell’s career.

Eleven years after Mipso formed in Chapel Hill, Terrell is the group’s latest member to put out a solo record  (Wood Robinson released Wood Robinson’s New Formal in 2017 and Libby Rodenbough released Spectacle of Love in 2020). Good for Nothing Howl is a natural continuation of the group’s indie-Americana sound.

The album finds Mipso’s guitarist and primary songwriter back in the studio with a host of collaborators, joining isolated strains of bright finger-style guitar and string washes with arrangements by producer Chris Boerner (Hiss Golden Messenger) and the boisterous rhythm section of Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver) and Cameron Ralston (Bonny Light Horseman, Bedouine).

The album leans heavily on accented production: underscoring verses with strings and choruses with harmonies (Chessa Rich, Skylar Gudasz, Tift Merritt), supplying inter-verse string fills, dwelling in the recordings’ exacting polish. These overdubs, which set and embellish the mood, enhance the odd mysticism of Terrell’s lyrics.

This dynamic is on display in the blending of object and personhood in “Cast Iron Kettle”: “I was a cast iron kettle in the pouring rain … I was a repeat back seat sleeping pill.” Or the fractured perspective of “Howl”: “The radio doesn’t have to notice the snowing / And never have I criticized a train out of tune / How come I was whistling but stopped as soon as you walked in the room?”

In these new songs, Terrell reaches a more mature lyrical style than in his previous work: the extended metaphors of Mipso’s Terrell-penned songs (“My broken heart, every injured ventricle, every aching atrium,” from “Red Eye to Raleigh”) reach a darker, more pointed absurdism that, at its best, revels in associative jumps, in personal ambivalence, and in the volatility of expression.

Comment on this story at

Support independent local journalism

Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.