by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


It's been too long in coming, so here's a three-song, thirteen-minute update that puts the spotlight on Hayden.

Hayden's a packed-house star up here in the frosty Canadian wastes, and he can't be too fringe a figure in the American singer-songwriter arena, but his records still aren't mentioned in the sorts of places they should be. He's released five solid albums of brooding, mumbly music, and while his lyrics can be hit-and-miss, his melancholy sincerity is perfect for stormy Thursday afternoons, or as a relationship slowly comes apart. He lets little guitar sounds carry the pauses between words, lets the unsaid speak. And he rarely screeches. (Of course there's also the growly and raging "When This Is Over" which is whiney and abrasive, but in a Tom-Waits-as-teenage-angster kind of way.)

In chronological order, then:

Hayden - "You Are All I Have". My favourite Hayden song, recorded twice - an angrier, rawer version on Moving Careful, and again here on The Closer I Get. This is an exceedingly careful love song, as tentative as fingers brushing hair from a face. It's long and steadfastly simple, bold words over the a tickling, blossoming mandolin. Hayden takes such time letting the song fold open, letting it stretch and ripple and glow. Each time a line of the chorus is delivered, it's a pulse of something bigger, as Douglas Coupland wrote (about something else), "silver dollars, rubies, sugar candies." A man in front of a house at night, lit only by the dim porch light, his heart in his two hands. [buy]

Hayden - "Bass Song". From 2002's Skyscraper National Park. This one is a little more upbeat, at least in a musical sense. Live, it's led by the ringing piano sound, but on record it's a strange, macabre little thing, guitars and drums pulling the quiet piano around, introducing it to the cold, wet, twisting strings. It's a silly story: Hayden in his home as burglars break in. "I couldn't hear them / with my headphones on / recording a song." But things go queer in the second half, as he "grab[s] [his] bass guitar by the neck," to be found "five days after [he] hit the ground." The same cautionary guitar tootles along, but in come the strings again, wheeling and winding, a slow-motion dance, dark violet figures on a candlelit floor. [buy]

Hayden - "Home by Saturday". Finally, the second track from Hayden's 2004 record, Elk Lake Serenade. Here he is in his slightly more rustic mode, with the kind of urban country-folk that landed him the soundtrack for 1996's Trees Lounge (with Steve Buscemi! As an unemployed drinker who's down on his luck!). There's an affectionate ring to Hayden's voice, in the long highways he imagines beyond the end of the song. A pedal steel underlines the man's not-quite-weariness, his not-quite-longing. As everything tramps casually forward, you can't help but feel it's holding back, ultimately much more divided than, say, Tom Waits's "Long Way Home". Listening to Hayden's lazy Ontario drawl, however, it's easy to understand why the girl would feel attached in the first place. [buy]

The bad side to Hayden is that since his comeback explosion a couple of years ago, I get the feeling he's coasting. Live, he's gone smug and lacklustre, carelessly tossing out songs, fully aware that the audience will lap it up regardless of effort. There are bits of Elk Lake Serenade where he's spinning his wheels, not putting the work into finishing the song. Hayden's written some excellent tracks that consist basically of a chorus: he sets a half-song spinning, gently reflecting light, and doesn't fill in the verses or give it an arc. But while this can sometimes succeed, other times it feels like a lazy habit or a lack of craft; the trick can wear, especially when overused. So while Greg Macpherson does astonishing things with his voice, his instrument, his words, Hayden's gone sloppy, resting too much on his cute-indie-boy laurels. Pull yourself together, dude: work a touch harder. I beg.

Posted by Sean at May 27, 2004 2:08 AM

I find Hayden at times amazing, at other times, completely forgettable. For instance, going thru CDs last week, I realized I had a copy of Skyscraper National Park that I had never listened to.

My fave Hayden song ever, was when he performed the song "Lounging" on the Wedge, acoustic, in front of a fire, while Sook Yin Lee (whom I otherwise hated) rocked slowly in her chair in time to the tune.

I like the movie Trees Lounge, but it is very slow, and a little uneven. Still, it contains one of my favourite dialogue exchanges ever, after Tommy (Buscemi) has made out with neighbourhood teenager Chloe Sevigny talks with his brother Raymond (played by Michael Buscemi):
Tommy: We started making out like a couple of high school kids.
Raymond: She is a high school kid.
Tommy: I know Raymond, I was there.

PS: That Clive Holden you posted a while back is amazing, even more amazing when put together with the rest of the Trains of Winnipeg songs.

Posted by caley at May 27, 2004 2:17 AM

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of Hayden today - excellent post!

Posted by Mark at May 27, 2004 2:54 AM

thanks for the hayden post sean. i agree with the assesment of the latest disc. i think the lyrics are actually stronger than the songs end up being. i read the words on their own before listening and was let down to hear them with their melodies. however, this could just mean there is no instant gratification from the new disc, a slow grower perhaps?
but please, lets mention the packaging. thoughtful and beautiful. i am a sucker for this sort of thing.

oh and BTW SF=BMR.

Posted by scandal face at May 27, 2004 9:55 AM

i would say hayden is very-very under-the-radar here in the us. he's IS known, but only by a few cool people. i'm sure his popularity has grown a bit though since pitchfork started saying nice things about him.

Posted by Gnirvis at May 27, 2004 11:27 AM

I'd been waiting for someone to drop the new Hayden. I liked his last one, but it was sooooooo quiet. I was hoping his new one would be a little less so.


Posted by music robot mark at May 27, 2004 12:16 PM

First of all, I'd be remiss if I didn't urge caley to listen to (and cherish) Skyscraper National Park. It's as gorgeous an example of the singer-songwriter genre as I've ever heard, and it is, without hyperbole, one of the ten discs I'd bring with me were I forced to live out the rest of my days on a deserted island. Secondly, while I agree with the assessment of the development of Hayden's songcraft, I feel his live shows are, if anything, stronger now than they were five and ten years ago.

Posted by Paul at May 27, 2004 1:01 PM

Couldn't agree more about the new Hayden. I'd say about 1/3 of the disc is really incredible. Maybe the best stuff he's ever done, but I feel like Skyscraper National Park is a much more consistent and fully realized album than this one. Still, it's found its way into my CD player dozens of times already.

Posted by nhennies at May 27, 2004 4:50 PM

Caley - that's dialogue's great. It's been ages and ages since I saw the film; perhaps I shoudl rewatch! (And I'm real glad you liked - and sought out - the Clive Holden. It's something really special, but was criminally ignored by the press.)

Brian - thank you for removing the SF face for a second. I had no idea it was you. And I can see some of the care with packaging in your own releases - they're understatedly put together, and very nice.

Hayden's an interesting guy, because he's really divisive among his listeners. I knew someone who swore by really early Hayden, but know many others who mock that early stuff incessantly. My pal Brie, for instance, genuinely thought that "Bunkbed" was a joke song, not genuine in its angst. My friend Monica, meanwhile, who has wonderful taste, found "Skyscraper" to be the disappointing one, for nebulous reasons. I don't think it was the "quiet" thing that m.r.mark is talking about... something about the polish on it, the greater awareness of an audience. It's a tricky thing to be, an artist who has made his bread and butter being confessional, now brought to a bigger stage. The examples make it clear that it can be difficult to cope, while maintaining artistic credibility. (See: Elliott Smith, Cat Stevens, Weezer, Neutral Milk Hotel, even Dave Matthews.)

Posted by Sean at May 27, 2004 11:29 PM

And I mean that it's difficult on a personal level - not just that it's difficult to perform/record "good" confessional music.

Posted by Sean at May 27, 2004 11:29 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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