If I’m not careful, I’m going to spend all of my money on bandcamp downloads of bands from the UK. Actually, if I’m not careful I’m going to get sucked into hefnet.com and spend all of my money on Darren Hayman and Hefner records that I don’t have. What this, a 7” where he sings with a small orchestra and so does Gordon MacIntyre from Ballboy? I’m sold. A 7” where he sings with Emma Kupa of Standard Fare? Awesome. Double-disc reissues of Hefner albums I already own (and love)? A live album with the Wave Pictures as his backing band? A double-CD from when he recorded a song each day during the month of January? And oh, that new T-shirt with the woman protecting the penguin looks awfully nice. And where did our money for a new roof go?
I’ve actually resisted most of those so far, but I have
fallen hard for his new EP Blue House, which has an enticing
graphic-novel-esque cover of a couple rowing a boat, on holiday. It’s five
songs, which is sometimes all that you need.
The opener “Leaves and Stars” is a gorgeous work cut from bittersweet cloth. A divorce song, it seems, from the standpoint of onlooking
friends. Change as a permanent fixture in the world; “Like the leaves and the
stars / things cannot stay the way they are.” There’s a great electric guitar
bit that sounds both mean and pretty, perhaps like the content of the song.
The songs here are pretty, even when the stories and feelings
are not. “When the School Sold Its Fields” is a gorgeous, sad, five-minute ballad
about, it seems, schools selling off the kids’ play yards for money. Memory –
of childhood, of simpler times, of friends and lovers past -- is always at play
in these songs, as it often is with Hayman’s music (and, for that matter, with
most music that I love).
But these songs aren’t always wistful. Or, rather, they
sometimes are wistful in the present tense, as on my favorite song here, the
delicate “Kurhaus Blues”. This is one of those songs I will play again as soon
as it ends; do you have those? In Hayman's notes about the song, which was based on a trip to
Austria, he writes, “We walked around a ruined Kurhaus, lost amongst the mountains and
trees. I imagined it when it was new. I do this a lot; imagine old things new.”
That imagining, of course, ends up involving not just the
place, but also a relationship: “You know I love you / you know that I really
really do”. The words about love aren’t why I find the song touching and a bit
entrancing – it’s the particularly gentle way he sings over patient
music that seems to catch things in slow-motion.
That Darren Hayman is still making such interesting and
vibrant music 12 years after Hefner broke up might surprise you. Then again, do
you remember Hefner at all? I don’t know whether people do. I don’t hear about
them much, but I do live across the pond. In my world they’re huge.