May 02, 2002

Hayden "Skyscraper National Park"

There's something quite distant, quite forest-like about this album. Maybe it's the wood-and-moose combination on the cover. Maybe it the fact that the dark atmospheric folk songs of Skyscraper National Park sound like they were recorded on the back porch of a log cabin in Northern Canada. Maybe it's the "National Park" in the album's title. Yes, my friends, we've got us another homegrown album here.

But I digress. Hayden is one of the many artists who lost a label but gained a following, and Skyscraper National Park is his first "new" album since being dropped. (I say "new" because apparently Hayden released this album himself a year ago, and it quickly sold out.) I'm not really familiar with Hayden's previous albums, but after a few listens to Skyscraper National Park I feel like I definitely want to peruse the local bargain-bins to find his previous "loved-by-critics-but-nobody-else" albums.

There's something about this album, though, that I can't shake. I think it's Radiohead. Like Grandaddy, who applied the OK Computer template to California radio-friendly 70s rock, and Sparklehorse, who in turn have created their own sound which can loosely be seen an Appalachian version of the Radiohead experience, Hayden has tapped into the atmosphere of his native Canada's countryside, to great results. Let's not go into the fact that the first song on this album is "Street Car," either. The Radiohead comparison is rather apt; for, in his own little way, Hayden sings a lot like Thom Yorke, sounding somewhere between tortured soul, bitter poet, and angel boy. If you were to remove Yorke from the vast, overwhelming musical tour-de-force of Radiohead in favor of a simple piano-slight drum-guitar combo, and you've got an utterly powerful performance.

The one problem with Skyscraper National Park, if you could really consider it a problem, is that it seems rather top-heavy. The epic "Dynamite Walls" is but the second song on the album and, while gorgeous, seems to weigh down the rest of the record. With the first 12 minutes of this nearly 40-minute album belonging to the first two songs, one can't help but feel a bit overwhelmed by the one-two punch at the beginning, or feel that the rest of the album seems a bit skimpy. Not that you'll want to miss highlights such as the sweet love song "Carried Away," or the disturbing "Bass Song," because those are simply two of eleven gorgeous songs to be heard on Skyscraper National Park.

I've heard it said that this is the best album of Hayden's career. As I've never heard his previous work, I cannot make such a claim, but I can clearly understand the sentiments behind such comments--Skyscraper National Park is a most beautiful record. Hayden is someone who deserves to be heard, and will clearly move you into listening. Hayden is among the few rare artists who undeniably deserves all of the hype surrounding him, and Skyscraper National Park is one of those rare records that will enthrall you from from beginning to end. Essential? Only if you like powerfully emotional music.

--Joseph Kyle

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