Desser, who's so gloomy he can't even be bothered to use his last name, actually might have donned a pair of those khakis back in the mid-'90s, when a cloud of buzz surrounded his debut album, the stark, sullen Everything I Long For. Looking back now, it seems strange that the lo-fi sketches that made up that disc--much more like Sebadoh than anything Yorn and his peers have released--would have made a media star out of Hayden, however deft his way with a teary goodbye. And so it goes with Skyscraper National Park, his third album of woolly folk-pop and another step away from the spotlight-gleam of big-time accessibility. Not that the songs on Skyscraper aren't pretty: Opener "Street Car" and closer "Lullaby" are comely slices of rainy-day acoustic guitar, muted strings and Hayden's parched baritone, and he manages to keep the formula interesting throughout with the occasional dab of trippy Neil Young grunge or junky Tom Waits detailing. But Hayden isn't your little sister's singer-songwriter; when he croaks, "The day after the storm I didn't leave the house at all," on the funereal "Bass Song," you know it wasn't so he could catch that new Dave Matthews video.
Mojave 3 front man Neil Halstead is too intimate for his own good, too: His new solo album, Sleeping on Roads, sounds more like Nick Drake than casual Volkswagen drivers are likely to appreciate. That means carefully strummed acoustics and slowly unspooling melodies, of course, two commodities Roads boasts, along with a panoply of organs, bells and stringed instruments that rim Halstead's often skeletal songs with the autumnal glow Drake captured on Bryter Layter. But it also means observations like that in the delicate "Martha's Mantra (For the Pain)": "Now she says she won't do drugs/Because she found something to love/She cured herself of everything/There's nothing left but hair and skin." Not much hope here for Saturday Night Live spots, then--just the gorgeous, sorrowful whisper of loss.