splendid > reviews > 2/26/2002
Skyscraper National Park

Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Dynamite Walls"

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There are three recognizable phases that an aspiring musician experiences during his/her music career. First, the new artist begins his musical journey with demo releases and indie label undertakings. Next, said musician lands a major label contract that gives him big time distribution and (hopefully) positive cash flow, but has the potential to alienate his original fan base. Finally, the corporate monolith label dumps the artist due to careless musical or financial management, leaving him desperately clawing at his proverbial musical tomb. Will his career recover from this major label sodomy job, or end prematurely as the public switches its tastes to another brand of mass-marketed music?

We join Canadian songwriter Hayden somewhere in the middle of the third stage. After watching his former label, Outpost/Geffen Records, implode, Hayden vanished for more than three years. Some had already scrawled an epitaph -- "another major label casualty" -- across his unused headstone. And then, just as the Toronto songsmith was becoming a faded memory in our record collections, he reappeared -- with an album just as incredible as the gross exaggerations of his demise.

While he's typically spotted with his trusty acoustic guitar by his side, Hayden Desser is by no means a trite coffee shop poet. His topical lyrical content favors the extraordinary and unusual, blending wild introspective viewpoints with subdued folk chords and the occasional support of a low-key backing band. Skyscraper National Park finds Hayden integrating his indie rock roots with a few tricks he picked up during the recording of his major label release, The Closer I Get. Simply put, if Elliott Smith wants to keep himself in the running against Hayden, he'd better start hitting the smack again, while Cat Power has absolutely no hope but to pawn off her guitar and find a decent paying day job. Hayden has released an album of magnificent proportions!

Hayden's most potent, and perhaps most bizarre track has to be "Bass Song", which describes an in-process burglary and murder at Hayden's mansion, while the hapless musician tries to record one last song. "They were walking up the stairs / Towards me as I looked for something to try and scare and them with / I couldn’t find shit / so I grabbed my bass guitar by the neck / now they're above me / hit by the top of the stairs / and that's where I was found / five days after I hit the ground." These are the songsmith's last words as he succumbs to the blade; now if that's not a fucked up dream put to gorgeous piano accentuations, I don't know what is!

The morose ballad "Dynamite Walls" steers through existential words as a subdued yet powerful rhythm engulfs your senses. "Long Way Down" highlights Hayden's familiar fractured falsetto, while the fragile recording picks up everything from Hayden's hand sliding across the fretboard to a passionate chorus that will leave the most optimistic person stunned with a heavy heart. But this isn't an exploited Morrissey recreation; rather, Hayden has the rare balance of self-pity and wry humor that establishes his songs as powerful tools, recreating touching memories and altering your deepest-seated musical opinions. There’s an organic quality to Hayden’s music that eclipses typical rock ‘n’ roll fare, placing his musicianship a step above that of most contemporary artists.

It all boils down to the startling revelation that Hayden has by no means lost his artistic depth in his post-Outpost Recordings world. Skyscraper National Park may have snuck through the Canadian press last year, but it deserves and demands the respect of the American public with its domestic release on Badman Recordings. What's one of the best albums of the year? You're reading about it right now...



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