Release Date: Feb 5, 2013
Record label: Arts & Crafts
Hayden seemed to run away from his mid-90s chance at stardom, retreating into his studio to occasionally release sad but solid albums with minimal promotion. Music critics still loved him, but his introverted folk-pop tunes no longer had much of a chance of reaching a wider audience. This pattern may be about to change, though. His new album, Us Alone, is not only a stunning, understated collection of songs, but the notoriously reclusive artist has also decided to tour and do press this time around.
Canadian songwriter Hayden helped set the scene for the less traditional approach of the indie folk scene through his early cassette releases and later his masterfully arranged solo albums. With a unique low voice and bittersweet, understated tunes, Hayden developed a sound both rusty and pristine over the course of an oeuvre beginning in the mid-'90s and outlasting the trends of all the eras that he passed through. Seventh album Us Alone finds a grown-up Hayden stripping down his arrangements to their core, relying on spare folk-rock instrumentation to support his increasingly astute and mature storytelling songs.
Would Hayden's albums be so compelling if he didn't release them so far apart? It's a valid question now that the reclusive Thornhill, ON singer-songwriter has fallen into a (more or less) four-year cycle of releases. Like watching the latest instalment of Michael Apted's Up documentary series, part of listening to a new Hayden album for a long-time fan are moments of reflection about how both his life and yours have progressed during the interim. Us Alone produces many of those moments, as Hayden (now a father entering his 40s) has reached a point where his past has taken on a life of its own.
If you thought Toronto folkie-cum-alternative music icon Hayden (full name: Paul Hayden Desser) was dead, there’s a reason. In recent years, Hayden’s Wikipedia page had erroneously listed him as being deceased, and it wasn’t until a fan brought this to the artist’s attention that he sat up, decided to put himself back out there and began writing songs again. “I was dead six months before anyone noticed,” recalls the singer-songwriter in a press release.
Paul Hayden Desser has been strumming his guitar, singing his sad songs, and releasing albums on his own Hardwood Records imprint for 20 years now, and his longevity is as respectable as it is baffling. The Canadian singer-songwriter caused a brief buzz back in the mid 1990s with his debut, Everything I Long For, a minor alt-folk release in the Sebadoh or Beck vein. Since then, however, he hasn't had a hit song or a big album, nor has he shown up on a soundtrack or in a major ad campaign.
Hayden Desser's voice carries a weary emotional weight, seeping through cracks of forgotten walls where the tentative warble and hesitant confessions convey more than lingering words. The Torontonian's seventh LP fills with those moments, yet also a veiled levity, as on opener "Motel" when he admits, "I can't go on pretending this song is about young lovers, born to run/When it's so clearly about you and me," breaking the lustful escapist daydream with the reality of driving to put a crying child to sleep. Hayden's songs sink in slowly, whether it's the jilted realization of "Just Give Me a Name" or the gorgeous funeral directions of closer "Instructions.