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Light of Day by Josh Haden (Review)

Light of Day - Josh Haden

I’ve gotten in trouble before for commenting on an album’s artwork in the course of a review, but I can’t help it here. Whenever I picked up one of Haden’s previous albums, back when he was the frontman of the jazzy slowcore outfit Spain, they were always wrapped up in packaging adorned with atmospheric, noirish photos of gorgeous women in alluring poses. So when I took Light of Day out of the envelope, I was a bit shocked to see bright colors and psychedelic imagery instead, with nary a seductive femme in sight.

But somehow it makes sense, as Light of Day (a precursor to Haden’s first solo album following Spain’s dissolution) does represent a change in Haden’s musical approach. A change, perhaps, for the brighter and more upbeat. Of course, “brighter” and “upbeat” are relative terms, and compared to a lot of pop out there, Haden’s still pretty reserved. But compared to his Spain output, there is a marked difference, and that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Much of the difference probably lies with Haden’s choice of collaborators — The Soulsavers, Tropikal, and Dan The Automator (whom Haden met while working on a DJ Shadow video). The result is music that is much more beat and chill out-driven, and almost downtempo in places (“So Alone”), which gels quite nicely with Haden’s traditionally lowkey approach.

The aforementioned “So Alone” is probably my fave track, a very relaxed downtempo piece full of lush, hypnotic beats, lonesome trumpet flourishes, and sparse guitar sketches (courtesy of fellow Spain alum Merlo Podlewski). The song just seems to stretch on forever, languid like a humid summer day, caught in perpetual downshift. While not entirely like anything in Spain’s repertoire, it represents a nice shift in direction without being too radical a departure. On the other hand, “Way Of The World” is much more upbeat, and it almost sounds a bit too different from Haden’s previous work. Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds a little odd to hear Haden’s smooth voice juxtaposed with funky little synth beeps. Heck, I never thought I’d use the word “funky” to describe any of Haden’s endeavors.

There are still some weaknesses to Haden’s music, though. His voice doesn’t have the widest range, and there are a few moments, like “Way Of The World,” where he pushes it a bit too much (it’s much better suited for the mellower material, i.e. “So Alone”). And lyrically, the EP gets a bit too simplistic; on “Way Of The World,” he breathily croons “All the time/Oh girl, you’re on my mind/You are so fine/Will you be mine?” It sounds nice, but it’s not exactly profound.

But then again, lyrics haven’t always been Haden’s strongest suit. Even so, Haden has always been very adept at creating an affecting mood with his music, and it’s nice to see that, on tracks like “So Alone,” he can still do so as well as ever — even when incorporating new textures and sounds into the mix. But personally, I wouldn’t mind a return to the older style of artwork. Atmospheric photos of gorgeous women in beguiling poses outdoes psychedelic imagery and squiggly typefaces any day of the week in my book.

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