Hayden - Us Alone
Record Label: Arts and Crafts
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2013
Bitterness and despair are the overreaching themes that saturate Us Alone, Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden's seventh full-length album. The disc, his first in four years, is also his first on veritable Canadian label Arts and Crafts, after a twelve year run with Universal Music Canada. Playing nearly every instrument himself, Us Alone is an intricate tapestry of piano, guitar, organ and slide guitar.
Evoking Midwestern Americana not unlike Son Volt or Clem Snide, the disc opens with "Motel," a delicate study in mostly piano and drum that wavers and quivers with each intonation of his whiskey-soaked voice. A gently rolling slab of indie folk, the near six-minute opener is as engaging as anything the troubadour has done to date. Gentle acoustics open the helpless "Just Give Me a Name," a pleading folk lament that elucidates that when it comes to brooding Americana, few if any do it better than him. Bright guitars and the sultry vocals of chanteuse Lou Canon stoke the fires of "Blurry Nights," a winsome should-be single that is playful as much as it is defeatist. If that sounds tough to imagine, just give yourself a few minutes and listen to this should-be classic. Side A closes with "Old Dreams," a song anchored by the light prattle of drums, twinkling piano and a cinematic sweep that is both funereal and elegiac. Though it veers more towards instrumental and interlude, there is a transcendence in the intricacy of the arrangements and it is those nuances that make the song so deeply rewarding.
Side B opens with the jaunty "Almost Everything," a dusty hymn replete with piano, harmonica and a ringing organ. Ostensibly a song about trying to find hope in music, its mere existence feels akin to a songwriting manifesto. That is to say, all burgeoning singer-songwriters should look to this song for solace and inspiration. Stark organ opens things up on "Oh Memory," an orchestration that is not too far removed from a church hymnal. Though it features almost two minutes of instrumentation sans lyrics, there is a plaintiveness and a despondence that is far too hard to fake and even harder to imitate. Though it is most assuredly a song for a lonely bar stool it is also a song for anyone who has ever found themselves buried in a well of misfortune. Penultimate cut "Rainy Saturday," is most definitely one of the disc's most upbeat efforts and has a sense of punch that is missing on most of its predecessors. Buttressed by a ringing chorus, "Rainy Saturday," seems certain to be a live favorite. Us Alone closes with "Instructions," which actually draws on the conclusion of "Rainy Saturday," but digs deeper. Though once again there is little in the way of words, the song is a focused study in how carefully crafted Hayden is with his arrangements.
While many artists are inclined to stock an album with superfluous amounts of filler and trash, Hayden does exactly the opposite. With only eight songs and a running time of just over 40 minutes, Us Alone is compact, quick and to the point. But make no mistake, this is not a record for a cursory or casual listen. This is deeply ruminative, painstaking stuff. That it is also the finest Americana record of 2013 thus far is no coincidence. Now more than a decade into a criminally overlooked career, Hayden has arguably crafted his finest album to date. Whether it stokes the fires of those of us in America, remains to be seen, but a disc this strong should not fall that far below the radar. This is the stuff of greatness. One listen to Us Alone proves that.