reviewed by Laura Stanley
If I were to say that Hayden Desser is an institution in Canadian music, I’m sure I would not be alone in my praise. Since his emotionally raw 1995 debut record Everything I Long For, Hayden has been making folk-rooted, story-telling, heartfelt music which after six album, has touched a lot of people. After a four year absence, Hayden returns to making music with his seventh record, Us Alone.
In an autobiographical record, the maturation of Hayden’s songwriting is clear. No longer writing about “young lovers,” as he says in album opener “Motel,” Hayden writes about the experiences and perspectives he has gained as a new father amongst other things. Though still touching on themes of escapism, a la “Dynamite Walls,” Hayden’s lyrical perspective has changed, now connecting a car ride getaway from mundane life, as found in “Motel,” to the act of driving the car around in an attempt to get his new baby daughter to fall asleep.
In a song for song lovers, “Almost Everything” is a brilliant career retrospective all in about five minutes. Fittingly including a harmonica like that found in his older work, Hayden takes us back to his sudden surge of fame in the late 90s, his evolving views on making music, and the adjustment of its place in life singing, “I’m recording once again while my kid is upstairs in bed and I’ll admit that now and then, that some nights when I’m strumming, or maybe just drumming, the music is still everything…well almost everything.”
Lyrics aside, though like the majority of Hayden songs they are the most crucial part, there’s nothing complex about the instrumentation in Us Alone. Primarily using a steady drum beat, simple piano melodies, relatively soft guitar parts, Hayden is still able to produce upbeat songs despite this and his recognizable hushed voice.
Exchanging vocal parts with musician Lou Canon, whose debut record was produced by Hayden on his record label and who will also be joining him on his upcoming tour, “Blurry Nights” captures a poppier side of the record while the pop-rock guitar strums of “Rainy Saturday” does the same.
In a gut-punch of an ending, “Instructions” might be the most poignant Hayden song to date. If you’re the kind of emotional Hayden fan who sat and cried when listening to the ghost story of “1939” from Elk-Lake Serenade, prepare yourself for this one. Complimented by melancholic instrumentation, Hayden discloses his wishes after death: “put all my ashes in a can and drive up North in the van. Roll the windows down and play The Band.” Perhaps prompted by the birth of his daughter, it’s funny how the birth of a child always makes one think about their own mortality, “Instructions” further cements Hayden as one of the strongest Canadian songwriters.
As Hayden fans know, he has never really been one to rely on singer-songwriter cliches like a once catchy hook or clever choruses, though any sort of cleverness or catchiness is not absent, but rather creating songs that have true staying power. Us Alone is a record that looks both back at an already successful music career and celebrates what the future holds for both Hayden and his fans.
Top Tracks: “Blurry Nights,” “Almost Everything,” “Instructions”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*