Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Darren Hayman - The Ship's Piano

One from the heart. The ever busy former Hefner frontman releases an album of tender piano ballads.

In late 2009 Darren Hayman ended up in hospital with a fractured skull. In the following months of enforced recuperation he wrote a series of songs that ended up being his latest album The Ship's Piano. With constant dizziness and some deafness in one ear, anything loud or jarring was out. The resulting music Hayman describes as “round and smooth, like well worn pebbles”. It's an apt description. There's a gentleness and tasteful restraint at play, his playing style's not flashy or virtuoso, more “Lennon doing his simple chords” kinda stuff. Added to this are unobtrusive drums, the occasional trumpet solo and a bit of accordian. Save for four tracks it was all recorded at Hayman's home, giving the album an intimate and warm field-recording feel.

Perhaps also due to the therapeutic nature of the album's genesis, the lyrics are mostly first-person, simple yet still keenly observed as one would expect. Take A Breather is a middle-aged reflective love song of sorts, referencing lost gloves, rusty bicycle chains and leaves turning to mildew. Though still personal Oh Josephine benefits from Hayman's wry touch and ability to convey a scene with the smallest of details.

Click over the jump for more on The Ship's Piano.

The rich poetic imagery is nicely broken up by two short instrumental tracks, the short Know Your Place with an almost dub reggae feel, (though dub reggae fuelled by Earl Grey tea rather than marijuana), and Clown Sky which has more of an electronic drum sound, and is lent a sad air by the slowly repeated minor chords.

Perhaps the best example of Hayman's skill as a writer is the album's closing title track where Hayman sings of an imagined history of the piano on which he composed the album. It's a particularly lovely song, with exceptionally good lyrics. “To make the keys they made an Elephant cry” being just one example of his poet's eye for detail. The piano takes a journey through time and owners, starting as a felled walnut tree, it travels through Burgundy, Paris in 1933, crossing the channel to “flee the war”, to Bethnal Green, to at various times, Barrow, a junk shop in Crewe, a pub in Durham, and a shed in Hartlepool. It's unique and strangely moving, much like the rest of the album.

Click here for Darren Hayman online.