Tuesday, February 12, 2013

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HAYDEN - US ALONE

Hayden returns with his first disc in four years, and he's still doing what he's always done, and done best.  Us Alone is a quiet, intimate set of songs that sound like they were calmly, studiously laid down with great care and reflection.  But it's different than demos, low-fi, or deliberate understatement.  It's a personal method of pinpointing the exact voice, the feeling, the volume where he wants to be.  You could throw a Fleetwood Mac budget at Hayden, and I doubt he'd make a different album.

Well, he might hire Neil Young, but only to play organ.  Not that he can't, and does do almost everything here himself, whatever fits the mood.  And if you're going to write a song like Instructions, which is basically a series of instructions on what to do with his remains when he dies, you pretty much want to be making that alone.  And you'd expect it to be mournful, a hypnotic repetitive piano piece that channels the great outdoors:  "Here's how I want this to go down/Please don't leave me in the ground."  There is a rare vocal accompaniment on Blurry Nights, as his label mate, and tour guest Lou Canon provides the counterpoint, but she's already in his inner circle, having had her debut disc produced by Hayden.  Otherwise, he keeps that tight control, playing virtually everything, plus acting as producer, mixer and engineer.

I wouldn't say any of the tracks are stripped down or bare, but there isn't any clutter here, he hasn't piled on the instruments or vocals.  Like the mood, and the volume, again it's a case of just right.  There are drums in places, enough to give opener Motel a beat instead of being a ballad.  Synths show up, as brief moments of colour, not obtrusive, just a sweetening.  Hayden's weary vocals remind me of Ray Davies, as they are both telling a story rather than singing a song.  Blurry nights by the way, is one of the best one-night-stand lyrics ever, in case you think this is all down and mellow stuff.  Heck, Rainy Saturday positively rocks.. a little.  With its old-school synth and little guitar lick, and an actual upbeat chorus, he shows there's some fun in his heart, too.  And what a big heart.

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