2008 release, the Canadian's first album in four years. Hayden rose from the lakes of Ontario in the late '90s and was immediately hailed as 'the new Beck'. While Hayden's music is much more akin to Ontario's other favorite son, Neil Young, he has been known to cut and paste like Mr. Hansen. In Field & Town features 11 top quality songs that perfectly match his deep infectious voice and toe-tapping Folk tunes.
In Field & Town
Combined Rating: 79%
Hayden is about a week away from finishing up a sold-out Canadian tour. This is either due to his camp’s uncanny ability to choose the perfect venue size or, as I suspect, a testament to the fierce loyalty that continues to burn in the hearts of fans over ten years after his career highlight. It’s strange. Like Ani DiFranco or Danny Michel (for Ottawa-er-ing-i-ans), Hayden is the sort of artist who touched people — perhaps for a-critical, personal reasons — very deeply in their teens when they were sad and angry and music meant much more them than it could to any adult. On the strength of one small publicity coup (the “Bad As They Seem” video) and with little label support, he’s been able to inspire an allegiance that’s Arcade-Fire-like in intensity if not in size. He seems locked in time, however, as his audience, the same people who came to his shows in the late ’90s, grows up with him, their ears maturing with his sound. By all conventional standards, Hayden should be a footnote in CanRawk history like Treble Charger or Tristan Psionic. Instead, he’s a shockingly viable recording artist who just put out every Canadian former indie teen thirty year old’s favourite record.
It sounds like I’m slagging it off, but I love In Field & Town. It’s an exquisitely delicate album in miniature, all the more affecting for its humility. Stubbornly resisting any pressure to comment broadly or get indie-rock-political (pukesies), Hayden’s stories remain disarmingly particular; they’re awash not in universalizable vagueness but specific detail and the kind of diminutive scope that ensures the listener identifies by placing their experience adjacent to that of the singer. This little bit of distance inherent in the alongside-not-inside relationship of singer to listener is everything because Hayden does not condescend to tell me how to feel or labour to be “expressive”; he is deeply heartfelt but not insufferable because his emotion is embedded in situation. Capital-E Emotion isn’t screamed at me from a teary-eyed, feelin’ it diva. It is offered, if I’d care to take it, from a demure, eyes-closed grown-up, content inside his life of camping trips and warm drinks at night. Consider the following from “The Van Song”: “And the day before that was the one we met / You were with sisters and I was with friends / I was so lonely and you were so mad.” On the page it seems sad sack, but the jaunty tune and hop-skip piano keeps the whole thing light as a watercolour. The listener isn’t bludgeoned with one affected Feeling, but is witness to a scene in which various characters play sentiments that are in turn subtly dissonant with the harmonic mood. The singer’s inner state is just one small aspect of the picture, not the essence of the whole.
Feeling in scene is the calling card of Hayden’s later work just as the fluctuating extremes of wispy sensitivity and growling anger defined his early stuff, and along with this mellowed lyrical sensibility goes a soft and richly detailed sonic palette. In Field & Town is labored over in the very best sense. Every tone and note is placed just so. The upper register bass in “Where and When,” the synth (!) is worthy of your esteem. It’s all prog-record perfect, and Hayden’s habit of taking two or three years to make an album really shows. What’s so refreshing, perhaps here more than on any other Hayden record, is the complete lack of the sort of pretentiousness that typically accompanies other artists’ protracted recording projects. Time in the studio often stands in for Ambition, which in turn is measured in the resulting Epic of Experimental Art. Not so here, where Hayden stands firmly in the pop/folk tradition of straightforward, melodic songwriting. He even curbs the ambitions of the average pop song, with “Weight of the World” clocking in at 1:41. An epic of labour; a product of miniature proportions. It’s almost baroque in its obsessive, detailed sonic perfection.
His approach yields magnificent results, with standouts “Where and When” and the almost-“Taxman”-aping title track reaching just shy of “Dynamite Walls,” Hayden’s single best recording. It’s that example that leads me to my one small bone to pick: “Dynamite Walls” contains more range in its seven minutes than In Field & Town does in its thirty-six. There he is both decorous and bold, fine and expansive. It is a diminutive scene that, ‘round about 4:30, opens into a sonic landscape as wide as the North and then closes back in to contain itself. The humility of In Field & Town, in many ways its central virtue, never allows for such an expansion. I suspect the record is all the better for it, but judged against his very best work, one recognizes this is not his defining moment.
I bet Hayden would agree not that his best days are behind him (which is not necessarily the case) but that on this record he is not seeking the limits of rock or straining toward the maximum display of his own gifts. That’s why this album is for Hayden’s old fans; it’s not polemical enough to attract attention. It doesn’t shout loud enough for the kids. Hayden’s bold-statement days are over, and this is the sound of him maturing as gracefully as I can imagine, lettings his roots dig deeper and his steps grow surer. In Field & Town decidedly will not blow your mind, but it is that rarest of albums that is both immediately accessible and utterly indispensable.
David Ritter :: 11 February 2008