J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Return Trip: Hayden - The Closer I Get

The Closer I Get
(Outpost ; 1998)

I have a lot of Hayden-related memories: first seeing the video for "Bad as They Seem" on 120 Minutes while spending the night at a friend's house (he hated the song but thought the girl in the video was hot); exciting the newly arrived Canadian girl at school by even knowing who Hayden was; bumming a dollar off my then-girlfriend in order to be able to afford The Closer I Get, which I saw at a record store we were in, not knowing it had been released; finally meeting Hayden and having him sign my vinyl copy of the Moving Careful EP in which he spaced the letters of his name out in a pattern around the inside cover, accidentally(?)/purposefully(?!?) duplicating a letter and thus misspelling his own name. Memories of a cult artist in an age of flashes of fame.

But it's getting less and less possible to be a true cult artist anymore. There's too much information on the prowl at all times and thus is harder for artists to truly just spread by word-of-mouth appeal. The last remaining people who fall into this category tend to have one or both of the following things be true: a) they got started in the 90s, during the mid-decade indie-rock boom, and had at least a minor hit during the more and more hazily remembered time when MTV had shows like 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation (Buffalo Tom, Better Than Ezra) or b) they're from another country, especially Canada (the Tragically Hip, Sloan). The latter category doesn't exclude them from homeland success - God knows the Hip sell out stadiums up north and Sloan really is practically the Canadian Beatles. Hayden has had his share of homeland success as well, but American audiences, after the brief notice of his '96 debut, Everything I Long For, have slowly set about making him a certifiable cult artist.

His full-length follow-up to that highly praised album (ignoring, for the moment, the aforementioned signed EP from '97) was The Closer I Get, an album that has been pretty universally dumped into the 'mediocre' bin in music reviews. His subsequent albums, on the other hand, have achieved pretty hefty critical fanfare, even if they've continued to be ignored by the commercial public.

Part of this feature's goal is to highlight albums that have been overlooked or shunned for one reason or another, and The Closer I Get is an album worth an attempted rescue. It has long been billed as the lesser brother of Hayden's debut, a similar set of songs that just don't carry the weight of the songs from that first record. But to look at it as simply Everything I Long For-redux is a mis-statement of the musical shifts Hayden made for the album.

So much of that debut album was carried by the one-guy-and-a-guitar songs that dominated its track listing and there are a number of them here. The ghostly "Bullet," its microphones attuned to even the rattling of the strings between and during strums, is one of the album's most affecting moments - Hayden's paranoia and seeming fatalism intertwining. "Between Us To Hold" is an example of the type of moment-sketches that he has always excelled at - brief glimpses into momentary happiness and calmness. "Memphis" seems to turn away from the insular lyrical concerns as he revisits the death of Elvis from the perspective of a television viewer, eventually only serving to further reinforce the themes of isolation and disconnection from a larger vision of humanity.

But these take a stylistic backseat to the expanded instrumentation of the majority of the album. Hayden re-records a pair of songs from the Moving Careful EP, "Stride" and "You Are All I Have," adding elements of keyboard, more steady percussion, or in the latter's case, slowly plucked banjo that reinforces the lonesome, desperate feel of the original. "The Hazards of Sitting Beneath Palm Trees" and "Better Off Inside" serve as the album's lone peaks of pure rock, not coming near the abrasive and frantic snarl of the debut album's "In September," but fitting more in with this album's feel.

It would be hard to convince people that The Closer I Get is actually a more morose and despondent album than the hope-lorn Everything I Long For, but the wisps of hope that recurred with some frequency throughout the debut are here confined to the back-to-back songs "Two Doors" and "Between Us to Hold," the former failing to really amount to much in the way of uplift as the narrator plays out his fantasy in his mind while not lifting a finger to make it happen. A pair of middling instrumentals spaced throughout the record don't provide much in the way of illumination either and only serve to isolate the middle section's relative cheer (the aforementioned "Two Doors,""Between Us To Hold" and "Better Off Inside").

As this would be Hayden's last album of the 90s, it's a spectacular vision of the existential isolation of the coming decade. I don't mean to argue Hayden as some sort of prophet, but had this album been released four or five years later, its dread and somber tone would have struck perfectly against the righteous anger and moralistic posturing of the post 9/11 era - a lonesome missive from the wilderness - a lost member of the tribe sending sketches from the wasteland.

Rating: E(xcellent)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Hayden - "Bullet"

Hayden - "Two Doors"

Hayden - "The Hazards of Sitting Beneath Palm Trees" (video)

Also, check out this poor quality video of a Much Music interview with Hayden at the time of the release of The Closer I Get.

Download other music by Hayden from EMusic.

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  • At 6:55 PM, December 07, 2007, Blogger shona said…

    hells yes. I'm glad you met a canadian who is glad they met you.

    hayden is excellent and hands down gives the best autographs

  • At 10:51 PM, December 12, 2007, Anonymous sarae said…

    Ever since you first posted this, my mind keeps turning back to Hayden - it made me remember how much I miss listening to his music. I have such intense memories tied to each album, that I haven't listened for ages. I have to find these CDs.


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