With his first record on Arts & Crafts, Hayden proves that even sad songs grow up.
Born Paul Hayden Desser, the internationally recognized singer-songwriter Hayden has been composing lyrics about sadness, heartbreak, and loss for a full two decades. His soul-baring, gritty tunes and emotion-choked baritone have helped define Canadian indie rock since his first song, “Take,” hit the airwaves in 1993. With his latest release, Us Alone, Hayden continues to refine his unique blend of of alternative rock, folk, grunge, and country.
Us Alone shows off a few shifts in Hayden’s sound, and it hints at a new direction for his career. After a long relationship with Universal, Hayden put out this latest record on the Toronto-based independent label Arts & Crafts. His first release in four years, Us Alone is in many ways a far lonelier album than those that came before. It’s bare and sparse, with fuzzy, layered production. Hayden recorded it in his home studio and also played all of the instruments, which increases the record’s sense of isolation. Us Alone hovers somewhere between plaintive minimalism and nebulous drowsiness, which is to say that it’s not always successful, but it’s always atmospheric and emotionally authentic.
It’s often the unexpected elements that make tracks on Us Alone stand out. Lou Canon’s ethereal, expressive voice gives “Blurry Nights” a more dynamic and energetic feel, while the organ in “Oh Memory” adds swelling emotion and a strange note of dignity. It’s the most straightforward Hayden song that ends up being the core of the album; “Almost Everything” is part original story, part clear-eyed musing on aging and changing priorities. It’s a song by an artist who still loves writing and playing more than almost everything in the world. There is a warmth and maturity now beneath the aching melancholy. It suits Hayden extremely well, and makes Us Alone a welcome step forward.