For those of us of a certain age, staying up way past our bedtime to watch 120 Minutes was a much anticipated weekly exercise, one of many important rituals tethered to discovering new music. I’m thirty now, which makes me one of the last bunch of music fans who got to indulge in this particular habit. Even though I was twelve or thirteen at the time, I still keenly remember watching the 120 Minutes premiere of Hayden Desser’s debut single, “Bad As They Seem,” back in 1995.
Apart from the scenes of Hayden mowing his lawn with a corded lawnmower (“In Canada they plug in their mowers? What?!”), the most instantly memorable aspect of the song was his voice. Deep and gravelly, it guided simple, gently bending melodies along an understated musical accompaniment.
The Silver Jews’ David Berman playfully mused, “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing;” and with his iconoclastic delivery Hayden became one of my favorite singers. I hunted down a copy of Everything I Long For and have taken pleasure in witnessing the maturation and expanding scope of his career since. Last month saw the release of Us Alone, Hayden’s seventh LP and first for Toronto’s lauded Arts & Crafts imprint (home to previously spotlighted artists Jason Collett, Stars, and Memphis).
Even without the sentimental attachment I’ve forged with his other albums over the years, it’s immediately apparent that Us Alone presents Hayden at the peak of his refinement. Those previous six LPs have funneled down into a sharply focused set of songs which draw from both the heart and fringes of its predecessors. “Old Dreams” is about as quintessential a Hayden track as they come: elegantly paced with the occasional burst of syncopation, led by a thoughtful piano figure, lyrically tender (“I don’t need my old dreams… All I want is you”), shaded in with a touch of the ethereal and a tinge of twang. Although it never feels insubstantial, “Old Dreams” almost dissolves into and out of existence, echoing the fog of the titular concern, a love song for starry nights.
Hayden has never been embarrassed to perform pretty songs or to lay emotions bare, but he has never done these things with the beauty and ease he finds on Us Alone. After the better part of two decades of waiting, I caught Hayden in concert for the first time this past Sunday. He and his bandmates kicked things off with “Old Dreams” then traveled back and forth across time and records before saying goodnight with “Bad As They Seem.” It was worth the wait, everything I’d longed for.
Click here to listen to Us Alone on Spotify.
Photos from Hayden’s performance on Sunday, March 17th at the Hi Dive in Denver, Colorado by Danny at From the Hip Photo: