Not varying a great deal from his last release, 2004’s Elk-Lake Serenade, Desser sticks to what he knows best. The pretty tunes let him show off his melodic ear and ability to draw in the listener.
“In Field & Town” opens up the eponymous record on a low-key note, but its high drive gets to you. That is the hallmark of Desser’s most effective pieces on this album: their ability to get to you. The following slow, orchestral “More Than Alive” reaches at times with its epic nature, but it’s the Casio tones of “Worthy of Your Esteem” that deliver a real expanse – yet also a hook. Finisher “Barely Friends” mumbles a bit, but its wistful alt-country twang and harmonica makes it a great coda to the record.
However, it is Desser’s keys that might be his most powerful weapon, whether on “Esteem”, the pretty piano tune that can’t be denied on the subsequent “Damn This Feeling”, or the touching, flowing penultimate piano elegy, “The Hardest Part”. Desser’s vocals, while remarkable, can sometimes come off as too affected. The storytelling of “Lonely Security Guard” seems a little too twee and cute. Meanwhile, he’s too nasal on the also dragging “Did I Wake Up Beside You?” If his voice is to play center stage, it is better on short, sweet numbers like the shanty-esque “The Van Song” and the catchy “Weight of the World”.
Paul Hayden Desser has been making music for nearly fifteen years now, but his alt-grunge work in the mid-nineties seems a world away. Nowadays, there are more singer/songwriters clambering into his field, but people like Bright Eyes could learn a thing or two from the ‘old man’. While not a bold reinvention of his Hayden sound, In Field & Town is a nice listen, and a nice way to start off 2008.
MP3 Stream: "Worthy of Your Esteem"
- Graham Goodwin