Even among the reticent & taciturn Canadians, Paul Hayden Desser has long had a reputation for reclusiveness, rarely doing much press or promotion for his releases, which would come out on his own Hardwood label in his native land. A 2002 tour was jokingly dubbed ‘Hayden’s Not Dead’ by some, he did no touring for 2009’s The Place Where We Lived (QRO review) because he & his wife had just had a child, and in 2010 there was a false rumor of his demise that even reached Wikipedia. Hayden’s not dead, though there was a hiatus after Place until now with Us Alone, his first released on a ‘proper’ label, Canadian alt-star imprint Arts & Crafts (Broken Social Scene, Feist, Stars), and it sees a relaxed and wryer – and more enjoyable – Hayden, for the most part.
Us Alone opens up very well with “Motel”, which sees Hayden’s relax a bit more sly than his usual sad, with great lines about needing to get out of Los Angeles and, “I can’t go on / Pretending this song / Is about young lovers / Born to run / When it’s so clearly / About you & me…” Hayden’s instrumentation is still top-notch, and the slight smile keeps pieces like “Motel”, “Almost Everything” (which name-checks Halifax, and not in needing to leave it), and “Rainy Saturday” (which actually has a bit of a Laurel Canyon feel to it, with more catch). He also finds a great duet partner in singer & sister-in-law Lou Canon (whose debut Hayden produced) on “Blurry Nights”. Contrastingly, the sad and stripped tracks such as “Old Dreams”, “Oh Memory”, and closer “Instructions” (plus the hidden track after it) feel a bit like the Hayden you’ve heard before (and other artists), and don’t quite fit the more (relatively) upbeat mood of Us Alone.
Hayden’s child born in 2009 was diagnosed with rare chromosomal deletion, prompting not just no promotion, touring, and a hiatus, but even for the singer/songwriter to think about getting out of music altogether. But reportedly the greatly exaggerated rumor of his death prompted him to actually embrace the idea of letting people know his music is out there, bringing him to Arts & Crafts. And we’re lucky he did return to music, and did make that music known.