Hayden, Elk-Lake Serenade
Pretty in pain: Toronto singer-songwriter lets loose
Listening to Elk-Lake Serenade, the fourth full-length LP from Toronto's Hayden Desser, feels a bit like flipping through a botany textbook — Hayden doesn't mew about lichen or live oaks or photosynthesis (although he does include one track, “Woody,” about the backyard-escapades of his cat), but his songs are still remarkably organic endeavors, all craggy branches and big, blooming flowers.
Pedal steel, harmonica, guitar and tiny bits of drum occasionally pop up, but Elk-Lake Serenade's lulling folk-rock is predicated on Desser's mahogany voice, which is sweet and smooth until the grain suddenly knots; consequently, Desser manages to sound both disaffected and strikingly sincere at the same time (much like his most obvious vocal inspiration, Nick Drake). Lyrically, much of Elk-Lake Serenade is focused on an unnamed betrayal, and even Desser's brightest guitar melodies sometimes feel heavy with regret. The tour saga “Home by Saturday” (“Last night in New York City/ Met a girl almost as pretty/ And if I'd had one more whiskey/ Everything would have all just slipped away”) is a convincing argument for skipping those extra club dates, sure, but it's also a stomach-twisting reminder that a pedal steel guitar, when wielded properly, sounds an awful lot like crying. Alternately celebratory and regretful, Elk-Lake Serenade is always fiercely contemplative, ideal for sitting on the edge of a lake, dragging your toes through the surface of the water and thinking about the ways in which your life has changed.