KEATON HENSON- ‘Monument’
Oh man. Ever since his debut album, Keaton Henson has worn his heart on his sleeve. And his guts on his sleeve. And his mind, and his soul, and whatever other body parts prove that he really means what he’s saying. Channelling lost love into raw poetry and anxiety into art, the London-born singer songwriter has produced some of the most earnest, gut-wrenching (and, perhaps most importantly, beautiful) music of the last decade. He could probably sing the terms and conditions from a parking ticket and people would bust out crying. Henson’s latest full length though, is about death. Specifically, the slow, painful death of his father. Oh man oh man.
You can hear it in heavy silences of ‘Bed’, on ‘The Grand Old Reason’, where Henson’s high, delicate voice barely escapes his lips, and in the home video audio clips cut and pasted throughout the background of ‘Monument’. If the deployment of funereal strings in the latter half of ‘Prayer’ isn’t enough to touch your heart, the fossilised words, “Keaton, wave to daddy”, at the end, will suck the air right out of your head.
Given the subject matter, it seems redundant to say that if you’ve found Henson maudlin or overwrought before, this is not the record to change your mind. However, ‘Monument’ isn’t totally grim. In fact, it’s no more (or less) candid, careful, or intense than his previous work. Opener ‘Ambulance’ spotlights his voice and fingerpicked guitar before a positively positive-sounding chorus unfurls, ‘Ontario’ boasts skittering electronics and percussion from erstwhile Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, while ‘While I Can’ features soulful vocal phrasing in the verses, and a full band chorus that wouldn’t sound of place on an Arcade Fire or Antlers album.
The record is incredibly focussed though. It’s almost an hour long but there’s no filler, no reason to ever check the time. Henson’s ability to write songs that feel like he’s making them up as he goes is in full effect, yet there are no unnecessarily rough edges. Even the smallest details are in their right place. Drones shimmer, tapes loop. ‘Monument’ starts with a needle drop pop and ends with subtle warping effects, like a record left out in the sun too long.
It’s unlikely to make its author a true household name- ‘Self Portrait’ is another fine example of perhaps why Henson’s career hasn’t gone (and probably won’t ever go) the same way as Damien Rice, James Vincent McMorrow, or the other emotive troubadours he’s sometimes compared to. It’s a lovely, lilting thing but instead of any rose-tinted description of the aging process, it comes with words about breaking down, losing your mind, and becoming food for worms. At one point he calls himself a “withered cunt”. But ‘Monument’ is incredibly effective, incredibly affecting, and almost timeless. It’s Keaton Henson’s best work yet.