Long before there was a trilogy of albums on the history of Essex, the 2012 instrumental record inspired by Lidos, an EP of tunes inspired by diesel commuter trains, or Chants for Socialists, Darren Hayman used to specialise in songs about break-ups and heartache. These were the themes that Hefner traded on and excelled at. More recently, Hayman has put himself in the minds of others, whether they be astronauts shooting for the moon, or the inhabitants of the Thankful Villages on his outstanding trilogy, but for his latest record Hayman gets back inside his own head.
And so Home Time seems an appropriate title as Hayman returns to familiar territory. These songs have been building over time, written over a three-year period, but the recording process was carried out in the best lo-fi traditions – laid down swiftly on an 8-track, all done acoustically with the help of Hannah Winter and Laura K on backing vocals. The process lends these 12 songs an intimacy befitting their autobiographical nature.
Piano-led opener ‘Curl Up’ invites you to do just that, while the bright and breezy ‘I Was Thinking About You’ hides a more painful undercurrent to its lyrics. Yes, Hefner fans are going to be right at home here. But they should also appreciate a songwriter who has learned much over the past two decades – about his craft as a songwriter, and about himself as a performer. He knows when to lay it on thick – like the strained vocals as he sings “We had the wrong sized plasters for dried-up broken hearts” on ‘Because We Were Impossible’ – and when to keep it brief, as the catchiest song here, lead single ‘I Tried and I Tried and I Failed’ skips by in 93 seconds.
Hayman’s musical output over the past few years was that of an artist never content to sit still, and never afraid of a new challenge. We hope there are many more weird and wonderful concept albums ahead. But for now, Home Time feels like catching up with an old friend.