Darren Hayman

You Will Not Die

The former Hefner frontman follows a set of Oulipian constraints to produce a set of typically affecting meditations of love, life and mortality, finds Aug Stone

From You Will Not Die’s very first note, its timbre and performance, this is unmistakably Darren Hayman. That processional single note bassline of ‘How Could It Be’ sets the pace for the rest of the album with its tone, tempo, and melodic synthpop style. Of everything Hayman has done, You Will Not Die is one of the most reminiscent of 2002’s The Hefner Brain, albeit a stripped back version of it. This not-quite-minimalism can be explained by the rules Hayman self-imposed on its recording. Fond of concept albums in recent years, the theme here is a sound governed by using “one voice, only twelve tracks, only one polyphonic instrument”. Like Hefner, too, the subject matter concerns romantic relationships – though the rampant sex of those earlier songs has gone out of them, the focus now being on emotions, expectations, and how they were and were not lived up to.

It’s also much longer than that five song EP, a sprawling double album with twenty-four tracks to its name. Six of which, a whole quarter of the record – including three of the first seven – are instrumentals. At such a length it would be tempting to say the record is a journey, but it isn’t. Rather it’s a meditative conversation with oneself, ruminating over various aspects of growing older, amorous connections taking various courses, and the two ideas being somewhat dependent on each other. Kudos to Hayman for letting this discourse take its natural course, rather than frontload the album with its catchiest songs (many of which come towards its end, with the placement reflecting a certain positivity, obtained through such contemplation).

Before we get there, however, there are some standouts on the first disc. ‘Feel Like This Every Night’ is reminiscent of the softer songs on Yazoo’s Upstairs At Eric’s. A pensive tune with lovely vocals, the lyrics as always coming through Hayman’s idiosyncratic lens on the world. ‘Room Within A Room’ has a pulsing 8th note bass, though when the beat kicks in they are actually 16ths and it seems the song could’ve gone a different way. ‘Loser Sun’, the best of the instrumentals, is also like this. Blipping over a catchy bassline that provides the movement of the song, and with some other fat low notes coming in, the arrangement is almost Krautrock, and could easily become such with a few tweaks. Back to the first disc, another strong instrumental is ‘Otium’. Joyous, with a ‘Straight To Hell’ (The Clash)/’Paper Planes’ (M.I.A.) style beginning to its progression. And ‘No Lime For The Gin’ deserves a mention as the scope widens out to that of multiple people beyond the narrator, giving an account of “not a party … a gathering” of forty-somethings reflecting on their various relationships.

The highlights really start at track eighteen, with ‘Easter Gold’. A classic 50s doo-wop chord progression played on detuning late 70s synths, making it a perfect candidate for Twin Peaks if the show had been set a decade earlier. Following this is ‘Actually I Still Really Really Miss You’, its title reflective of how heartfelt all these songs are. ‘Holiday Eyes’ triumphs despite Hayman trying to set the record for how many times the word ‘things’ can be used in a pop song. Nicely changing this up to ‘think’ a couple times in the second verse. Starting on a toy music box sound, the synth bass soon kicks in, and along with its strong melody, the tune builds to a shimmering outro. Up next ‘Where Were You’ is simply a great song, slightly wistful. There’s something about the way the sounds play the chords of ‘Adverse Camber’ – unrushed, almost floating – that is very nice. A tune full of pleasant uncertainty. The same can be said about the feel of closer ‘You Were Always Here’, the abrupt slides in the progression making the whole stand out. Moods of optimism and mystery mix with an odd tension pulling at the edges, a strong ending that pulls the whole record together.

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