Darren Hayman & The Secondary ModernView in iTunes
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Darren Hayman was the driving force behind the beloved but underheard Hefner; since that group's de facto dissolution in the early 2000s, he has remained active with numerous bands and solo projects. A prolific songwriter with a folksy, unpolished singing voice, a penchant for lo-fi recording, and a knack for touching character sketches, witty relationship dissections, and topical references to things like pop musicians and quaint British cultural institutions, his music (with Hefner specifically) has been fittingly referred to as "urban folk," though it often incorporates elements of styles as disparate as indie rock, synth pop, and bluegrass. Born and raised in the Essex town of Brentwood, Hayman founded Hefner in the early '90s after meeting future drummer Ant Harding at art college, but it remained essentially a solo project until 1996, when the band was signed to Too Pure with a solidified trio lineup. Following the fourth Hefner album, 2001's Dead Media, the beginning of an indefinite but seemingly permanent hiatus, Hayman and bassist John Morrison continued that record's fascination with vintage synthesizers and drum machines (and revisited several songs initially intended for Hefner) in the short-lived outfit the French. 2005 saw the self-titled EP release of another electronically-minded duo project, the mostly instrumental Stereo Morphonium, with Mutronium's Joel Neumatic. Starting around this time, Hayman initiated a series of 7" EPs recorded at various vacation spots around the U.K., released in limited editions on the Static Caravan label. After spending much of 2004 in a drawn out contractual dispute with Too Pure that effectively prevented Hayman from releasing new music, but eventually resulted in his acquiring the rights to the entire Hefner discography, the latter half of the 2000s saw a veritable flood of releases on his newly established Hefnet/Belka imprint, including deluxe Hefner album reissues, a disc of BBC sessions recorded with superfan John Peel, and the collected Great British Holiday EPs. Meanwhile, he began releasing albums under his own name: 2006's Table for One, 2007's Darren Hayman & the Secondary Modern -- introducing a backing group whose lineup has remained deliberately in flux, including members of the Wave Pictures, Fanfarlo, and Smile Down Upon Us, among others -- and the 2009 "folk opera" Pram Town, a narrative song cycle set in a post-war planned community. Hayman, who at any given time purports to be several completed albums ahead of what he's actually released, also plays in the loose London bluegrass group Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee, who issued a self-titled album 2008. ~ K. Ross Hoffman