Essex Arms

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When Darren Hayman left Hefner on hiatus in 2002 he formed The French, a short-lived deliberate departure into something more electronic and obscure. At the time it seemed to be something which he had to get out of his system, and even now Hayman is trying to push the envelope. In an interview with musicOMH in 2007 he admitted " When I am recording and writing I forget about the people that are going to listen to it and try to make it as interesting as possible...and it's only when I come to release it I start to worry". The good news for us is that Hayman and his interchangeable band have now found their niche and on album two of a three part trilogy they are really hitting their stride. "Be Lonely" opens proceedings and with its repetitive chorus it's also warm and fuzzy which will brighten up any cloudy autumn afternoon. Follow up, "Calling Out Your Name Again", is a delightfully cheerful duet with Emmy The Great which name checks the titular Essex Arms along with vivid recollections of the mundanity of suburban life ("railway footbridges...barbwire fences...satellite dishes...call out your name"). Not many other artists could portray such things with the warmth that is shown here (Jarvis Cocker and David Tattersall of the Wave Pictures being notable exceptions). "Winter Makes You Want Me More", a self depreciating country tinged love song, and its melody would be right at home on After The Goldrush. "The patio heaters glow, the paw prints in the snow, the shivering smokers know I love you so" is one of those lines that you could instantly associate with Hayman. Similarly, "Super Kings" continues with Hayman's connection to smoking and even though this is a somewhat childish guitar ditty with grown-up words, it really works. It also somehow works on "Cocoa Butter", a hillbilly folk song written by a man who grew up in suburban England. The album's theme is at its most poignant though on "Dagenham Ford", an affectionate ode to abandoned industry which really hits home in the modern age of conservative Britain ("the sparks that flew no longer do, and the assembly line has died") This is a perfect Autumn album with the fullest, warmest sound you're likely to hear all year (a sound which even shines through on throwaway ukulele geekfest "Spiderman Beats Ironman"). Some may call it twee but on "Drive Too Fast" Hayman pulls it off with aplomb, chucking in humorous lines such as "You look like the lesbian from Brookside", The sort of line which will please the thirty-somethings in his audience and makes no attempt to relate to a younger hipper crowd. "Plastic and Steel" is yet another song with a driving theme, this time Hayman finds romance in a car crash (literally) and its many vocal overdubs provide a gorgeously lush sound. The album is finished off (all too quickly) with something completely different in "Nothing You Can Do About It". It sounds like Sticky Fingers era Rolling Stones and it's the sort of song that many bands would use to suck people in at the start of an album (similarly, opener "Be Lonely" would perhaps be more at home at the end).This is just another example of why Darren Hayman is now at the forefront of the real UK indie folk scene, he's not following the crowd, he's choosing his own direction and if this album is anything to go by we'll be counting down the days to the final part of the trilogy.