Home Read Albums Of The Week: Hayden | Are We Good

Albums Of The Week: Hayden | Are We Good

Thanks to nudges from Feist & The National, the introspective troubadour finally finds his way out of the attic & back into our hearts with a slate of sublime indie-folk gems.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Hayden — the legendary Toronto indie-folk rock fixture whose heartrending songs are a soundtrack to coming of age — has just released Are We Good, his first full-length studio album since 2015.

Six years in the making with 60-plus songs in the running, Are We Good was written, produced, and mixed predominantly by Hayden at Skyscraper National Park, the studio at the top of his Toronto home. A perfect combination of complex family life — he and his wife are parents to a child with developmental disabilities — coupled with the grinding halt of creative inertia, Hayden found himself trying to balance the album on an unachievable ledge of perfection. On Are We Good – an evolutionary album that is “the sound of an artist who’s been learning how to challenge an aesthetic they’ve been exploring for 30 years” (sometimes past the point of perfection) — Hayden opened up to new creative approaches to awakening his singular storytelling voice, including collaboration in different forms.

By breaking his confines, Hayden — who has defined his perennial 30-year career with a staunchly DIY approach — made an album richly inspired by relationships, from first crushes to family, and music in between. Trading ideas back and forth over time with Matt Berninger of The National, Hayden put trust in a lyrical voice not his own for the first time across his eight achingly beautiful solo albums. The collaboration led to Berninger’s verses unfurling beneath Hayden’s repeated mantra of “Are we good” on the title track, just one defining moment of the album. The National frontman also co-writes on album tracks It’s Just Me and Can’t Happen Now, furthering a collaboration which began on Take Me Out Of Town off Berninger’s Serpentine Prison and will continue.

Hayden also worked with another member of The National on this record. After listening to an early version of Are We Good, Aaron Dessner came on board to lend his immense talents as co-producer. They worked on several songs at his storied Long Pond studio in Hudson N.Y., enlisting Dessner heavyweights like engineer Jonathan Low (Taylor Swift, Big Red Machine) and drummer James Krivchenia (Big Thief). Although just two of these co-productions appear on Are We Good — the stunning We Danced in dedication to Leonard Cohen, and It’s Just Me — the others are sure to show up in the near future.

Photo by Christie Greyerbiehl.

Meanwhile, the single On A Beach — a song unmatched in his canon for its immediate catchiness and clear blue sky production — finds Desser collaborating with fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. A couple’s duet about turning to hypnosis in search of the spark of their youth, the song’s ambling bass line and sparse hand claps blossom into Feist and Hayden’s indelible chorus of ‘We’re on a beach, oh yeah, we’re on a beach / We’re drinking income taxes and you’re fond of me’ with swirling synths adding to the ambience. Accompanied by a transportive video directed by Yael Staav, who has directed most of Hayden’s videos for the last 25 years, On A Beach brings an all-star cast together into a timeless artist’s singular realm.

While Hayden acknowledges that this collection of 11 songs took him the longest to complete, On A Beach proved to him that “after all these years, a song can still appear nearly fully formed in one quick inspired moment.”

“One afternoon February 2021 I was asleep at my piano when I received a text from my friend Leslie (Feist), inviting me to be a part of a songwriting workshop with several other musicians of note. I was terrified, but joined in as an attempt to jolt myself out of submission. The idea was to write a song a day for seven consecutive days, sharing them later each evening with the other writers. A great combination of pure-feet-to-the-fire expression and accountability.

On A Beach was my Day 4 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.”

Introduced by the raw and gravely East Coast and the raucous but plaintive Miss Fort Erie, Hayden’s ninth studio album is a crowning achievement in his well-deep catalog of carefully hewn indie rock dating back to his debut album Everything I Long For in 1996. Often likened to north stars like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen in the same breath as sonic outliers like Pavement and Sebadoh, Hayden’s career began with a cult following in his native Canada, leading to a bidding war that saw him sign with Geffen offshoot Outpost Records. A visual storyteller who has always used music videos as a lyrical tool, with On The Beach Hayden and his longstanding cast of friends prove again that reinvention is the greatest reminder of the essence of who you are.”

Watch my interview with Hayden HERE.


Photo by Robert George.