In January 2011, former Hefner front man and all round indie icon Darren Hayman embarked on a challenge to write record and release a song a day throughout the month of January. A year later and the project is being celebrated with the release of all 31 tracks on limited edition CD which offers a perfect chance to reflect on a staggering achievement both musically and artistically.
January Songs was born out of Hayman’s prolific songwriting ability, and his frustration at the laborious nature of the music industry. With a stockpile of albums’ worth of songs ready to be released, but held up due to the interminable process of record label politics, Hayman decided to bypass all of that and do it himself. Not only is January Songs a collection of effortlessly brilliant Darren Hayman songs, it is also a collaborative effort between Hayman and his fans, a chance for them to take part in and influence the creative process.
Most musicians would struggle to write 31 songs in a whole year but for Hayman, songwriting comes easily and always has done throughout his career. The premise of the project was simple; there would be no pre-planned ideas or concepts, Hayman would simply wake up, step out of the house and the first thing he saw and the first ideas that came into his head would form the basis for that day’s song. It is a pure and distilled approach that represents the very essence of songwriting and leads to an album that never sounds forced or contrived. It is a collection of wide ranging and, mostly, brilliant melodic pop songs.
Obviously, because of the quick turnaround between songs, the sound is resolutely lo-fi; however, that suits the understated style and DIY nature of the concept. The sheer range of influences and styles that go into Hayman’s work is striking. The songs here encompass everything from folk to melodic indie pop to garage rock to electro and even jazz and disco. This is a glorious melting pot of sounds.
A main theme of the collection seems to be collaboration and friendship; indeed, a number of Hayman’s friends and like-minded musicians appear on the songs. Allo Darlin singer Elizabeth Morris’ wistful vocals on the mournful I Know I Fucked Up is a standout, as is Let Me Sleep featuring Hayman’s old Hefner band mate Jack Hayter. The Wave Pictures also pop up on the bafflingly exuberant Who Hung The Monkey. These collaborations allow the songs to remain fresh, and at no point throughout the 31 songs does the quality markedly drop.
Incredibly, given the scale of the project, the quality of the songs actually increases as the month progresses. A number of highlights come towards the end of the month, and the final two tracks are particularly outstanding. Recorded live at the Lexington in London, We’re Tired Of Getting Dicked Around is an anthem for Hayman’s fans and supporters and everyone who helped him with this project; the sound of the massed choir singing the title cannot fail to warm hearts. It is a truly lovely moment, among many.
The final track My Dream Train is a subtly dreamy piece of folktronica that sees Hayman proclaiming in typically self-effacing fashion: “I think we have worked hard enough, that’ll do.” It is a fittingly understated finish for an artist who has consistently gone under the mainstream radar. Perhaps the release of the full compilation of January Songs will finally bring him some more widespread acclaim, but even if it doesn’t this remains a wonderful collection of music that few songwriters in the UK could possibly hope to emulate.