Hayden – [Album]

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Before preparing this review, I revisited Hayden's output from 2001's Skyscraper National Park through 2009's The Place Where We Lived and must preface this review by noting that doing so was a huge mistake. In itself, Us Alone is a good listen; it provides much of the Leonard Cohen-meets-Neil Young qualities and careful songwriting that have defined Hayden's past work. The problem is that Us Alone comes up short, literally. To start, there are only eight tracks. Next, several of those eight songs feature long instrumental breaks which really stretch out the material. These points, coupled with somewhat uninspired content, make Us Alone feel incomplete – like the release was rushed. This in itself is uncharacteristic as Hayden doesn't seem like a man who is easily rushed. All this isn't to say that there aren't great songs on Us Alone (half the record stands up against his back catalogue), but “half” still only works out to four songs to get excited about, in this case.

With all of that knowledge in hand, I'd like to spend the first half of this review looking at the best of Us Alone and the second half looking at the album's flaws.

On Us Alone, Hayden leads and closes with his best material.  Side A starts with "Motel" – the first of two songs on the album dealing with his role as a new parent. The track spins the story of new parents trying to get away to a questionable motel to reconnect only to have to drive around to get their child to sleep. It's a well-crafted song and, despite my disconnection to the subject, I genuinely felt sympathetic to the cycle of torment a newborn must bring. It's Hayden's unique and honest perspective as a songwriter that makes "Motel" a strong start to the album, but I will note that the minute-long repetitive intro and two-minute outro was my first red flag that something was amiss on the album as a whole.

The highlight of Us Alone is "Just Give Me A Name," a song of betrayal which sees its protagonist wanting to avoid the details of a lover's affair, and so asking that she "just give [him] a name" instead. Whether fact or fiction, when Hayden is on his game, I find him very convincing and I'm sold on this track just as I was with “Motel”. "Rainy Saturday" is easily the most obvious and upbeat Hayden "single" I can recall, (maybe a favor to new label Arts & Crafts) and the folks that buy the album at Starbucks will no doubt love this track. Whether he intentionally wrote “Rainy Saturday” as a single or not, it is insanely catchy and provides a much-needed boost to the album; it is just about as conventionally infectious as this run-time gets. As if to prove that fact by negative example, Us Alone closes with "Instructions," a nearly twelve-minute track outlining the author's "instructions" for his ashes. While twelve minutes seems lengthy, it's hard to argue with his wishes to have his ashes spread on a northern Ontario highway with The Band as the soundtrack. I should also note that the song isn't actually twelve minutes, there is a bonus untitled song for those patient enough to wait or not distracted making their own "instructions.”  

The middle parts of Us Alone are either somewhat flawed or forgettable. "Blurry Nights" and "Almost Everything" both start out great, with awesome Time Fades Away era Neil Young inspired guitars but are flawed with weak melodies and uninspired subject matter. The hook in "Blurry Nights" is an awkward mouthful, lacking all sense of melody and "Almost Everything" finds Hayden reminiscing over his beginnings as a younger man when music was "everything" as opposed it being"almost everything" now as an adult with responsibilities. It's been said that "remember when" conversations are the lowest form of conversation and I'm of the opinion that this thinking can be applied to songwriting, thereby making "Almost Everything" a discredit to his past work. Maybe it really should be all or nothing.

I am hopeful that Us Alone will grow on me, though I'm not ever going to forgive the keyboards on "Instructions" and "Motel.” Even with that said though, I have to give credit where it is due; the tone of the album feels consistent from start to finish despite the range in subject matter (from new life and parenthood to the singer's own death) and that does a lot to disguise some of what seems to be filler in the middle of the album. Because it works in spite of its flaws, Us Alone may indeed be an enjoyable listen for anyone not familiar with the greatness of albums like In Field and Town. Those who are familiar with those albums may have a little more trouble taking to Us Alone, but at least they'll hopefully be able to get some value from this release; even if it does take a while to grow on them.


Hayden –
Us Alone – “Old Dreams” – [mp3]


Us Alone
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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