It has been fairly well documented that in November 2009 Darren Hayman was badly beaten up whilst on a short tour of the UK, and he suffered a fractured skull and a period in hospital as a result. The fall-out from that incident has not dented his gift for prolific songwriting – this album is an additional piece of work to '31 Songs', his successful song-a-day effort from January this year – but the attack did give him partial deafness and an inability to cope with loud transient sounds.

The Ship’s Piano is a musical response to that attack, though none of the songs are directly about it. Essentially this is the music that Darren made for his own therapy; in his own words it sounds “round and smooth, without jagged edges.” It has a lot in common with the reflective, slower songs of Darren's old band, Hefner, but steers clear of the lively indie-pop that is often associated with them.

All of the songs were written on his own “ship’s piano”, which is basically a tiny rudimentary upright piano with a five octave keyboard that folds away like an ironing board to save space. Due to its design it struggles with low notes, resulting in a slightly duller, warmer sound than a grand piano, for instance.

'I Taught You How to Dance' is the opening track, and that piano sound is the first thing you hear, easing you in very gently. The lyrics paint a lovely vivid picture, harking back to an earlier time. It's a tender story of a couple learning to dance, feeling a bit awkward and getting laughed at by the hipsters– the bit where he sings “I held on all night, you held on all night” is so touching. The singer has found some comfort, has found a safe place, and neither of them want to let that go. It certainly sounds like a subtle, almost subconscious reaction to what has happened to him. The other instrumentation is simple and effective; brushes on the drums, some analogue synths in the background and a lovely muted trumpet refrain. These are the main instruments used on the album, though when the synths become more prominent on songs like 'It's Easy to Hang with You' with its drifting spacey backdrop; it actually feels like a mellower 'Dead Media'-era Hefner.

There are sad songs ('Old House' documents things that are gone in heartbreakingly minute detail), amusing songs ('Cuckoo') and a couple of atmospheric instrumental pieces ('Clown Sky' and 'Know Your Place'). Overall it works both as a set of fine songs, and also as a mood piece. As Darren says in his press release “The songs on this record are pleas for calm. As I get older I find I prefer small, quiet things.” Those words are echoed here in the minimal arrangements and overall warmth of the sound, but also in the attention to little details in the lyrics. 'Take a Breather' is really lovely, maybe the most perfectly pitched in terms of mixing all those elements, it is superb songwriting.

On 'Think It Through', just when you are letting that simple piano wash over you, the lyrics reel you back in. This seems to be the most direct reference to what happened to him last year. “I'll think it through while the fists fly and the skin tears from the knuckle”. Again muted trumpet adds a beautiful melancholy air.

In an album packed with great lyrics ‘Oh Josephine’ has my pick of the bunch. "She was the kind of girl who never wore a skirt/ she was the kind of girl that lazy words would hurt", deserves some sort of prize I think. Throughout his career Darren has a skill of putting remarkable lines in pop songs, and there are many more examples of that throughout this album.

Closing track, ‘The Ship’s Piano’, is a wonderful story song about the long life of the piano and all its owners. He details how it moved between various families, from Paris in 1933 via Bethnal Green in 1962 and then subsequently the North-east of England, and it’s pretty special. He sums up the unique adaptability of such a piano in a single line - “there was no piano at the funeral, just a place to rest the wine”. When the music stops it can be folded away.

In coming to terms with his own suffering, Darren Hayman has made the music he wanted to hear. Even better, he has created an album which sits comfortably alongside his very best work and underlines his status as one of the finest songwriters around.