Hayden (nee Paul Hayden Desser) is an indie folk singer/songwriter from a Toronto suburb. He’s been making records for nearly 20 years, releasing seven proper albums and a breathtaking double live album (2002’s Live at Convocation Hall). He’s frequently lumped in the same “sad bastard”, “moody singer/songwriter” pile with the likes of Mark Kozelek and Will Oldham, and even to some much lesser extent Ryan Adams. I’ve always considered him to be “the Canadian Mark Kozelek”. Here’s what I wrote about Hayden last February.
Most of Hayden’s albums have been released by Hardwood Records, which is the label that he owns. He formed the label for the sole purpose of distributing his own music, but he’s signed a couple of bands along the way, including his sister-in-law, the wonderful Lou Canon. The new record, however, was released this February by Arts & Crafts. Earlier this week, the new album was named to the Polaris Music Prize long list of 40 nominees. The short list of ten titles will be announced on July 16, and the winner will be announced on September 23. This is Hayden’s first Polaris nomination.
Hayden has always been somewhat of a recluse, but on his previous album –2009’s The Place Where We Lived— he did nothing at all to promote the album. No touring, no press releases, no interviews. Nothing. This may have contributed to rumours that he had died. Thankfully, to borrow from the famous Mark Twain quote from 1897, rumours of his death were an exaggeration. Although it is often misquoted, Twain’s actual words were
James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration
After he cleared up the rumours of his death, Hayden joked that they rose out of his lack of promotion for The Place Where We Lived, saying “I realized you need to let people know that you have a record out”. This experience led him to sign with Arts & Crafts. Still, though, the new album almost didn’t happen.
Right after The Place Where We Lived, Hayden’s wife gave birth to their first child, a girl. She was born with a chromosomal deletion disorder. Hayden considered giving up his music career to be of more help around the house, but ultimately decided to keep going.
To backtrack just a touch… In 2010, Hayden produced an album for his sister-in-law Lou Canon and released it on his label. He also sang on one of the songs –“In Fall”– and I suspect that he also co-wrote the song. I wrote about that song here, and the post includes some of the bizarre details of how her debut album came to be.
Lou Canon showed up on Hayden’s new album, providing gorgeous vocals on today’s song. This is that song.
“Blurry Nights” by Hayden
It’s a super-sexy song about a couple of people having some sort of sordid affair. Whether they’re just having a sloppy one-night stand after meeting at a cookout or having an extramarital affair isn’t clear, but it is clear that they’re not really supposed to be doing what they’re doing. It’s a little creepy considering that the singers are in-laws, but it’s phenomenal nonetheless. The chorus is the crux of it:
I don’t know how to do this
But will you leave with me right now
Nothing good can ever come from this in the long run
But let’s not dismiss all the fun we could have tonight
If we forget how we might feel in the morning light
I like how they trade parts throughout the song, but naturally I especially dig their harmonies.
As much as I loved everything up to and including Elk-Lake Serenade (2004), I somehow got in my brain that he was turning some sort of corner. I got it in my brain that he was starting to become more poppy and starting to veer away from the sad bastard stuff that everybody knows and loves. I skipped the next two records for no good reason. There may have been a tiny bit of truth to the “veering away from the sad bastard stuff”, but he was still Hayden. Incidentally, I also had it in my brain that I had corrected that mistake, but I still don’t have those albums in my library. I’ll be correcting that right away.
I didn’t skip the new one. Arts & Crafts did an excellent job of doing advance promotion, so I was right on top of it.
Us Alone, blew me away on first listen. Of course I was mostly drawn to today’s song, but there are plenty of other gems on there, including the magnificent harmonica-laden “Almost Everything”, which is about how music used to be everything to him, but things have changed now that he has a kid. The first two choruses are about reminiscing the old days. They end with the line
…at a time in our lives when music was everything
It was everything
The next verse refers to writing new songs while the kid is upstairs in bed, and the chorus that follows is like the first two, except this:
And I’ll admit that now and then
That some nights when I’m strumming
or maybe just drumming
That music is still everything
Well, almost everything.
It kinda gets me choked up. Actually, the whole album has some pretty emotional stuff. I listened to the whole album three times in a row this morning while I was at work. I had to pretend that it was the onions that were making me tear up.
While I highly recommend today’s song as a stand-alone, I have an even greater recommendation that you listen to the whole album in one sitting. And then listen to it again.
You can order a physical copy of Us Alone from the Arts & Crafts webstore here, or you can download a digital copy there. Or from any other fine legal downloading place.