There are few songwriters in the UK more prolific than Darren Hayman. The former frontman of the much-loved but now defunct Hefner has already released two albums this year, with’ Lido’ a collection of instrumental tracks and ‘The Shit Piano’ - a Casio reworking of last year’s ‘The Ships Piano’. In addition to the full album release of 2011’s ‘January Songs’ project, 2012 has been an incredibly productive year. All that productivity and creative energy though has been primarily building to one landmark album, an album that is perhaps Hayman’s most eloquent and perfectly-realised take on the English psyche and the history that defines a community.
‘The Violence’ is the final part of Hayman’s ‘Essex Trilogy’. Recorded with his erstwhile backing band, now renamed The Long Parliament, it is a 20-song opus chronicling the 17th century Essex witch trials that took place during the English civil wars. It is a testament to Hayman’s peerless songwriting skills that he can take such a lofty theme and make it both intensely personal and deeply affecting. While the album primarily deals with historical themes, it is also, significantly, an album celebrating outsiderdom and examining humanity’s nature to cast aside and denigrate anyone considered even slightly different.
‘The Violence’ is an album characterised by a gentle and tender beauty, and the music is lovely throughout; ornate folksy melodies flutter gracefully punctuated by flourishes of strings and brass. Haymans’s wistful vocals are gorgeously soothing and are a perfect fit for the lovingly crafted music.
As with any Hayman album the lyrics are, of course, exceptional. This is an album to intently listen to every single line and every single syllable. There is a strange kind of hope and joy to the album’s warmest moments that belie the, at times, dark themes. This is best exemplified by the heartfelt swelling coda that ends ‘Parliament Joan’ - “you need a door you can close on the world, but a door you can’t close all the time”.
Darren Hayman has always been something of a niche and cult figure, but music as good and as important as this should be heard by far more than a cult audience. ‘The Violence’ provides a fitting conclusion to a trilogy of albums by a songwriter to be cherished.