ayden’s world is a strange place. The Canadian singer/songwriter’s demeanour, coupled with his idiosyncratic brand of mellow, hushed alt.country, could easily lead to him being mistaken for a solemn and melancholic soul. The truth is somewhat more interesting though, as beneath the surface of Skyscraper National Park there is revealed to be a wry and humorous character at odds with first impressions.
Aesthetically, Hayden inhabits the same sonic space as recent Wilco, Lambchop and Radiohead (without the bleeping), only conceived and produced on a much humbler, bedroom-4-track scale. As such, Skyscraper National Park is a very intimate record, but never cloyingly so. Guitars brush (acoustic) and float (electric) through the songs over modest-sounding drums and bass, with occasional touches of brass or strings to add definition and texture. Songs don’t seem to finish or end as much as stop or fade from view, often disarmingly quickly. “I Should Have Been Watching You” is over in a little over a minute, and “Tea Pad” is a brief, Verve-y instrumental composed of glistening guitars and shuntering rhythms. Those tracks that do last more than a couple of minutes are far from outstaying their welcome though – during its six or so minutes “Dynamite Walls” builds slowly to a gently mesmeric climax of rolling guitar noise that, if anything, you wish lasted longer.
Although Hayden’s voice, all half-hearted falsettos and faltering end-of-line cadences, is pure sadness, his lyrics are far from morose. “Carried Away” sees him suggesting to the object of his desire “maybe you could tell him / that since the day you met him / you’ve been liking him / less and less” in an effort to convince her to leave her current beau. This refreshing sexual honesty is a recurring theme. In “Looking For Me In You”, Hayden deconstructs a dying relationship in terse terms, telling his soon-to-be-ex-partner “I guess it’s for the best / I only wanted sex”, while in “Steps To Miles” he informs her that her “shoulders hold up my desire”. I think that means he’s a breast man.
Although it inhabits the same aesthetic landscape as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Skyscraper National Park is a much more insular affair, inhabiting different spiritual territory, shot through with a deep sense of an idiosyncratic personality as the driving force behind the music. As a result the album is enjoyable rather than revelatory, and quirky rather than profound. It’s reassuring to know that records of simple pleasures like this are still being made. Skyscraper National Park’s modest status and hushed tone will undoubtedly secure it a special place in many people’s hearts.