PinkMilk Reviews - Hayden James 'Between Us'

With his debut LP Hayden James promised much, but regrettably delivers much of the same.

Andrew Ring


he ability to adhere to a theme within an album is essential to the works eventual merit. Swing too far and the work risks becoming messy, or even worse, bland. Done properly a thematically tight LP makes a full play through as important as simply listening to the songs themselves. 

With that in mind, the news that Sydney house producer Hayden James intended to release an album built around the idea of an extended play was a cause for some interest earlier this year. A staple of Australia’s electronic scene, his ability to maintain popularity in the fickle dance industry is virtue of his formula of melodic bedroom house, and comes in spite of his limited discography.

The issue of James having a small discography is one of many borne out through Between Us, with four of the LP’s 11 tracks receiving single releases, in some cases as far as two years previous. Whether this speaks of James’ pedantic nature or a lack of creativity is up for speculation alone, but what it leads to is an album in which the presence of well-worn songs further dries out a project already lacking breakthrough sounds or moments of creativity.

The album begins solidly, with opening track Hold Me Back undeniably one of the LP’s strongest. It’s punchy vocals lead to a chorus that’s darker than James’ past affairs, and benefits well from some clever sound engineering.

From here on in the album jolts rather unceremoniously between songs, never quite achieving any serious fluidity. Nowhere to Go is nice enough as the albums lead single, but fails to hold a torch to James’ past work. The LP’s most compelling songs are his past releases, which disappointingly find themselves constrained by the suffocating repetition of the surrounding music.

The title track is James’ best effort at creating an emotionally charged ballad to date, with guest vocalist Panama complementing James’ simplistic production perfectly. Yet what would serve adequately as a wistful farewell is spoiled by the tracks placement halfway through the album.

This choice destroys the thematic feel and kills and sense of flow without hope of recovery. Not even Numb, which to this day is perhaps James’ most ethereal and emotionally evocative song, can salvage the second half of Between Us from the enveloping dullness present after track seven.

The majority of tracks on Between Us follow a simplistic formula that becomes bland and unsurprising as time drags on. This concept of adherence to a ‘theme’ speaks not merely of James’ use of distinctly house music tropes. It’s an album where the use of vocals, synths, and looped sample arrangements appear to have been put in the exact same order, in the same place, and with the same style on every single song.

The agonising frequency at which this occurs means that few songs, if any, sound remotely refreshing. In many cases the tracks on the album can simply be seen as poorer quality versions of songs that James himself has released in the past. 

The songs follow an arc of frustrating predictability, which when combined with the albums disastrous track ordering tip Between Us beyond any form of salvation. It results in a disappointing final product from a producer who possesses a credible, if limited ability to make good music.

James has never truly lit the house on fire, but across his career he’s turned out some of the countries most well produced melodic house and electro pop. His garish efforts to condense this into a full-length project have led to an LP that is conceptually constrained and monotonous. Between Us is too long and too murky to receive any serious platitudes, listening on shuffle is the only method by which it receives a passing grade.

Final Rating - 5.4 / 10