Toronto singer-songwriter Hayden Desser has been making soulful folk rock since his acclaimed 1995 debut, Everything I Long For. On Tuesday, he released his seventh studio album, Us Alone on the Canadian label Arts & Crafts. The label has been home to some of the releases of many seminal Canadian bands, including Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think, and A Silver Mt. Zion (a laundry list of some of my favorite bands in high school). While they opt for a more ambient, atmospheric sound, Hayden shoots straight for the heart, combining his mellow guitar playing with equally soft, touching lyrics. He is a prototypical singer-songwriter who has been perfecting the mold for years.
Hayden has described “Almost Everything,” the fifth track on the album, as a sort of autobiography.
“This is a song about my love for music from my days opening solo for grunge bands in the early 90’s, to recording this record while my daughter slept upstairs,” he says in an interview with Billboard. “This is kind of like my E-True-Hollywood Story in 5 minutes.”
Whereas this song might be Hayden’s testament of his own life, the whole album rings out as an autobiography. It can almost be viewed as a chronological depiction of someone’s life, with the first few songs describing the affections and afflictions of young romance, while the second half of the album becomes more reflective, as people go in their later years. This is what singer-songwriters should be doing: depicting life and relating to all their listeners, young and old.
The first track, “Motel,” sounds like the universal experience of trying to find love in our teens.
“Touch my skin, and let us begin to notice each other,” he sings. “Let’s not tell anyone about what’s going on.”
The first interactions of romance can often be the most invigorating, but you don’t want to betray yourself too much or your significant other, especially not at the beginning. The album then progresses to “Just Give Me a Name” where Hayden seems to be describing love in your twenties, when you’ve finally started working and romance gets a little trickier. The song name itself seems to signify that we have less time to devote to love, and so just a name, at the beginning, will suffice.
“I think I’d like to ask you for some other words,” he chants, finally working up the courage. “Like the name of the street where he likes to eat, or what time he gets home from work.” Meeting new people in your 20s is a guessing-game, where sometimes you start up a conversation with someone who’s free, and sometimes with someone who’s taken.
The second half of the album becomes less about the throes of love and more about reflecting on a life that is on the opposite side of the bell curve. That becomes apparent in, “Oh Memory,” a slower, weighty track that is almost inviting you to revisit the best and worst moments of your life so far. But Hayden doesn’t simply give up here.
"Rainy Saturday," the track immediately following "Oh Memory," feels like a second wind has swept you up, with its more upbeat tempo and lyrics about a spontaneous encounter that revitalizes a relationship.
“Don’t know how we did it but we made it through the winter just in time,” he sings, describing a relationship that was about to end. “I can put my wedding suit on and carry you outside this time.” Hayden wants a second chance, and the simple, impulsive act of re-donning his wedding suit and taking her out in the rain might just do it.
With Us Alone, Hayden truly hits the ups and downs of life, and not just the ones that occur to young people. This album is welcoming to anyone, young or old. Its playful lyrics and catchy guitar and piano playing are agreeable to all ears. He is a singer-songwriter with whom anyone can relate.