Five years ago on a random winter's day I was sitting in the hallway of my high school. I watched my friend Matt start banging on his portable tape player. He began to swear, and he ripped the tape out of its slot, and hurled it across the floor. It wasn't that he disliked the music quite the contrary. He was just fed up with his sub-par tape player that wasn't working, and became irate.
On one side of that tape was Hayden's first LP, Everything I Long for. I took it home ("Take it! Yargh!" I believe is what Matt said) and played it non-stop. Here was a sorrowful young man singing (in the deepest of baritones) about the girl of his dreams, who lived just down his street, but she was only a dream, as she was only 17. Tongue-in-cheek, maybe, but intriguing all the same.
Fast forward to the fall of 2001. My jaw literally dropped when I first heard Skyscraper National Park, Hayden's third album. From the first notes of the first song, "Streetcar," Hayden Desser had me. It's a rare day that I don't ride a streetcar, and I can see him in my mind stuck in transit on a rainy day, tracing condensation on the window with his finger and dreaming up the lyrics to the song. The frustration builds, in reality and in the song, when the streetcar barely moves and more people crowd on.
This record is the soundtrack to living in the city, but escaping on a regular basis from the people that populate it. "Open your eyes, put it in drive, get on the road, and just go," he sings during "Dynamite Walls." "City lights turn to tree lights and national park signs/ Mountains approach, more winds in the road, and the air turns to falling snow/ Miles away, just up ahead, it doesn't matter what any of us is looking for/ We'll never find it because it's not even there."
The almost haphazard way he half moans/half breathes his lyrics and music on the soft tracks, and laughs through the lighthearted ones (such as "Carried Away") is what puts this album completely over the top. It's a complete 180 from his last outing, The Closer I Get, where he tried to be too many things at once. Skyscraper never assumes it's anything more than a house performance for a small group of friends.
Like any classic folk-rock record, Skyscraper covers the gamut of emotion, from love ("All in One Move") to hurt ("Long Way Down") to frustration ("Streetcar") to quirky joy ("Tea Pad"). The one song that gives me absolute shivers is "Bass Song." It's the fictional tale of Hayden recording upstairs as robbers break in; upon finding him, they murder him.
I could draw comparisons to Smog, Elliott Smith, and even Neil Young (who once tried to sign Hayden to his record label), but just mentioning them is enough. Hayden, like all great artists, is unique, and with his third long-player, he has delivered an album that is both emotionally powerful and truly beautiful. Perhaps you might think of this review as my equivalent of tossing a cassette tape of it at you. Get my drift?