A week ago, Hayden Crawford unveiled his debut album Better Days, and I’ve been seriously enjoying it. The genre of this work could be best described as indie rock, but from listening to it, I can assure you that Crawford has listened to his fair share of bands like The Stone Roses and Ride as well. While the British influence on this album is evident, this artist has clearly managed to develop his own sound. This is one of my favorite releases this year; it could be one of yours, too.
Crawford is no stranger to music by any means – he’s the bass guitarist for the Muscle Shoals indie outfit Belle Adair, and he’s played with several other groups in the past, most notably The Kernal and a backing stint for Donnie Fritts. This latest release has given him the type of artistic control that would be intimidating to most: Crawford self-produced it, as well as played every instrument heard on the album. However, this isn’t the most unique part of Better Days’ development. All of the recording was done on an iPhone 6 through Apple Inc.’s GarageBand application, which is probably the most noble use of a smartphone that I’ve ever heard.
As a guitarist, the instrumentation alone was undoubtedly remarkable. It’s the kind of music that I would enjoy playing myself. Crawford’s style of playing sounds like an American Johnny Marr, with a bit more reverb. Meanwhile, the vocals seem to blend in with the wall of sound created by the guitar and keyboards, which might be symbolic of the themes they are communicating. The best songs on the record were the title track and “On My Own,” though that could be subjective to my preferences. You need to hear this for yourself.
The songs capture feelings that vary from social isolation to the desolation of heartbreak, though those thematics would be hard to guess that from listening to the music alone. Actually much of the album is rather upbeat, which says something about the burdens we often carry under the surface. According to Crawford, Better Days is a “pure, unfiltered glimpse into someone’s state of mind at a particular moment, and there’s a sense of honesty in that,” which defines all that work of art should hope to accomplish. The lyrics of this record are dark, no doubt, but this adds to the sense of vulnerability to the work; that is the gateway to any form of emotional connection. Crawford’s willingness to share his perspectives from a particular period of his life has given way to a work whose songs offer listeners a chance to feel validation in moments of doubt and melancholia while still guiding them towards the hope that can always be found through the transaction of ideas and emotions that take place in the artist-audience relationship. I don’t really want to be like a drug-addled 70-year-old raving about the “healing power of music” because that’s a little annoying, but it would be foolish to discredit it too.
This album has been a joyful listen despite its themes; its power is borne out of a combination of several of the best rock genres into a conglomeration that is unique, but I promise that the tag of “experimental” won’t apply here (it’s far too developed for that). Go out and listen to Better Days as soon as you can.