Hayden Elk-Lake Serenade

With Elk-Lake Serenade, Hayden Desser continues his ascent as one of the most noteworthy bruise-hearted singer-songwriters making music today. It’s a rare artist who can make such well-articulated writing seem like an effortless afterthought. Neil Young has done this, as has Tom Waits and on some level these are the types of trailblazers Hayden is successfully sniffing after. If the comparison requires some tightening up then it is Young’s pedal-steel-soaked balladry and Waits’s playful wit that Hayden makes his own on this new album. "Wide Eyes” masquerades as an endearing ruse but it is really a sly pick-up line, while "Home By Saturday” portrays someone who’s tired of being "alone at the microphone,” as Young once put it. Fans are already familiar with Hayden’s "Woody,” a song dedicated to the nocturnal habits of his beloved cat, though you wouldn’t quite know it otherwise ("I’m just sitting here wasting my time/until you come home from your escapades”). The imaginative "Hollywood Ending” catches Hayden daydreaming about what a man might really be capable of and "Through the Rads” finds the narrator puzzled by his neighbours, but still falling short of the paranoia of Waits’s "what’s he building in there?” gossiper. Mostly though, this is an album of off-kilter love songs that resonate quickly. Whether hopeful ("Roll Down that Wave,” "My Wife”), macabre ("Killbear,” "1939”), or horny ("Starting Over”) the ballads on Elk-Lake Serenade are a further testament to Hayden’s understated genius. (Hardwood)