“And some kids who heard, saw me in them, at a time when music was everything.”
On the autobiographical “Almost Everything”, Hayden Desser sings of kids putting themselves into his mopey, heartfelt songs. Hayden sung what he knew, whether it was confusion or a love burning as bright and fast as a shooting star.
The moments we connected to, in hindsight, were often as trivial as awkward, accepting touches or insignificant drama that we foolishly believed was monumental. We treasured the freedom of youth; the limitless potential and precious few consequences that let us love something without question.
On Hayden’s new record, Us Alone, he still sings of moments, and I still see myself in his words. I’m in my late thirties, a dad of two and I remember the moments when my life changed. The unparalleled joy when I found out we were pregnant and sadly, like Desser, the crippling sadness when a perfect future was reduced to best case scenarios and statistics. Probability should never be a requirement for parenthood, but for more and more people it is reality.
To his credit, Desser never focuses on the unfair hand he was dealt. He simply embraces the gift he and his wife were given and writes songs that connect with an audience much older but equally devoted.
“Dad rock” is evolving. The term, thankfully, is no longer reserved for deck shoe wearing dudes vibing out to ’70s radio rock, inspired grooves. Now, talented artists pen confessionals about the life altering transition from loving something completely to loving someone infinitely. Much like Bry Webb on the fantastic LP ProviderProvider, Hayden documents that transition beautifully.
Any parent will connect with the Hayden’s clever play on young lovers and hotel nights. “Motel.” On a casual listen the song is full of the heat of lust, but Hayden slowly morphs those desires into one much more honest. Driving for hours with a young one in the car seat, privately begging for the tears to stop and dreaming of little more than a night of interrupted sleep.
Hayden uses this record to think about his own mortality, new life, and the real pressures he now faces, but even the most transparent view into a person’s life is only as good as the melodies that push those words along. Us Alone is a refreshingly muddle free affair. It’s a mature conversation, where no voice fights for attention or pushes to be heard. The songs are remarkably straightforward.
Textures appear for impact and certainly have effect but the basis of these melodies is clarity. When things get dark, Hayden’s arrangements are minimal and powerful but the albums high points come when the energy and pace are picked up.
Desser uses crisp drums, chugging guitar and tender piano to build some of poppiest melodies to date, including the fantastic duet “Blurry Nights.” The song (which could also double as a perfect precursor for label mate Jason Collett’s “Hangover Days”) features back and forth vocals with Lou Canon and some of Hayden’s best writing. Hearing the two friends sing of the after affects and awkwardness and ultimately doomed relationship over the infectious guitar anthem once again proves Desser is one of our country’s strongest songwriters.
Us Alone is the type of record music fans need. A gentle reminder that as we age and live changes, music can still be everything. Well, almost everything.