Category Archives: Polaris Music Prize

06.15.13 — “Blurry Nights” by Hayden


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Blurry Nights” by Hayden (2013, from the album Us Alone).

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.

The 2012 Polaris Long List

Today is a fun day. Long list day is always a fun day. It didn’t start off well, but it’ll end well. And you, dear and loyal reader, get this. A bonus “special feature” blog post.

I woke up quite early this morning to write a post about the 2012 Polaris Music Prize long list. For those who don’t know, the Polaris Prize is given annually by a not-for-profit foundation whose purpose is to encourage, recognize, and reward creativity in Canadian music. The prize, unlike the Juno Award, has nothing to do with unit sales or marketability. In fact, that’s the whole point. Every year, a panel of some 200 journalists, bloggers, music industry professionals, deejays and other music enthusiasts decide which album should be celebrated. It’s in their credo that the award is given “without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history”. There are always a wide variety of genres represented in the pool. Almost all of the prize candidates are from independent labels. Some have no label affiliation at all.

The rules are pretty simple. This is an award that celebrates the “best” “Canadian” “album” of “the year”. I put those things in quotations for a reason.

Canadian For an album to be eligible, the artist must be a Canadian citizen or a Canadian landed immigrant. That “Canadian Landed Immigrant” thing is sort of like a green card in the United States. If there’s a band, at least 50% of the band has to be Canadian citizens.

Album According to Polaris “rules”, and “album” is generally understood to be more than 30 minutes in length or more than 10 songs. Compilations, tributes, reissues, remixes are not eligible.

The year The eligibility period runs for twelve months. From June 1 of the previous year to May 31 of the award year. The albums must have been officially released to the Canadian public during that time. Advance copies, leaks and pre-release streams do not count. Availability in the USA, UK or anywhere else is not germane.

The 200 or so panelists each submit a ballot, and on June 14, the top 40 vote-getters are named to the “long list”. I’m obviously not a panelist, but I like to play one on teevee, so I always play along with my own “unofficial” ballot. This morning, I wrote a hilarious, intelligent, sexy, and exceptionally humble post, naming my five selections. Unfortunately, I got really sloppy with my fat hands, and navigated away from the page without saving my progress first.

Gone. With one unintentional gesture, it vanished like a fart in the wind.

Anyway, my selections, in alphabetical order, were:

Drawn ShipLow Domestic (September 6, 2011). A sentimental choice. I didn’t expect it to make the long list, but I hoped.
Dan ManganOh Fortune (September 27, 2011). Even a deaf squirrel knows that Dan Mangan would be a sure thing.
MemoryhouseThe Slideshow Effect (February 28, 2012). Another sentimental choice that I thought might make the long list, but had no hope for the short list.
Lindi OrtegaLittle Red Boots (June 7, 2011). Another sentimental favorite. It’s a straight up country record. No “alt-” or “indie-“. Just “country”. And it’s brilliant.
PS I Love YouDeath Dreams (May 8, 2012) These noise boys have generated a ton of buzz with their second record and should be a lock.

The announcements came today, and as is par for the course, three of my five picks made the long list. The “Final 40”. The records by Dan Mangan, Lindi Ortega, and PS I Love You will advance to the next round.

On July 17, the list of 40 will be culled down to 10. The same jurors will submit a second ballot, only drawing from the pool of 40. A second jury of 11 members will make the final vote, and the winner will be announced on September 24. Each of the shortlisted bands will receive a $2,000 CAD prize. The grand prize winner gets a $30,000 CAD payday.

Since they started handing out the prize in 2006, only one “Frenchy” band has ever won the prize. Don’t be surprised, though, if a Frenchy wins it this year. Cœur de Pirate is a very strong candidate, with her new album Blonde. Patrick Watson and Fucked Up are both candidates to become the first two-time Polaris Music Prize winner. Watson won in 2007, and Fucked Up in 2009.

I’ll have plenty more musings on the Polaris Prize in the weeks to come.

What makes today so fun, to get back to the beginning, is that I have a lot of stuff that I have to listen to in the next month. Of the 40 albums that made the long list, I only own eight. There are a few that I’ve heard before, and some that I know enough to know that I don’t need to hear. There’s about 20 records on that list that I’ve never heard of. I’ve got some listening to do. As I do every year, I’ll make it my mission to have listened to every album on the long list so I can submit an informed imaginary ballot when it comes time to whittle it from 40 to 10 on July 17.

Once again, you can view the long list here. Tell me what you think. What were your picks?

I still have a song o’ the day post to write.

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