Album Review: Hayden – Are We Good

Hayden has, by his own admission, taken a while to produce his ninth studio record, Are We Good, with a gap of nearly eight years between records. Other than a single song, “Make Believe” from a project in 2020 which didn’t fully develop, the first hint that long time fans of Hayden had of what was to come was the release of the first track of the record “East Coast” in October. Beginning with a rolling piano, Hayden sings a melancholic ballad reminiscent of Leonard Cohen.  

Part of the creative process for the record was influenced by a song writing workshop which he was invited to by friend Leslie Feist wherein the songwriters wrote a song every day and shared it with the others that evening. Hayden says “‘On A Beach’ was my “day four” submission. I continued tinkering with the song and recording in the following weeks, adding a bridge, tracking several synth lines to try to create what I thought hypnosis may sound like. A few weeks later, Leslie was in town and I invited her to sing on a newer verse I’d written to make the song more of a conversation. Who better than the best, and the one who basically made the song happen in the first place.” Unlike most of Hayden’s body of work, the song is catchy but deceptively complex, the initial simple bass line being added to with handclaps before developing layers. There is also the heart-warmingly honest chuckle during the bridge near the end. 

Hayden has previously been known as quite a self-reliant artist, in 2001 he hand wrote and packaged 100 copies of his record Skyscraper National Park to distribute to friends. Indeed he often plays all the instruments on tracks as well as producing them at his home studio. However this record has seen Hayden exploring opportunities for creativity in collaboration by turning to Matt Berninger of The National. “It’s Just Me” is one of the three songs co-written with Berninger, who also has a cameo in the video for “On A Beach”. It feels somewhere between Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen, with an upbeat melody and Hayden’s vocals being almost cheery!  

Second single “Miss Fort Erie”, one of the older songs on the record, shares the conversation of a couple wherein the person on the road downplays any idea of a glamourous life, thought beware the twist near the end. 

“We play Buffalo, for ten people, and then load our shit 
Drive for under, half an hour, to some Motel 6 
Watch some minutes, of some idiots, talking on some show 
Play some guitar to the mini-bar, fall asleep in my clothes.” 

Hayden’s voice and singing style has previously been described as mumbly, low key, and understated, however his laconic voice belies the passion within the songs and whilst you certainly have to enjoy his style of singing to appreciate the overall production, both the lyrics and instrumentation is entrancing throughout with the co-written songs shining slightly brighter. 

Ulrike Gotts