Keaton Henson - Birthdays (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
KEATON Henson’s sophomore album is an often fascinating oddity. It’s sometimes achingly beautiful, at others explosively angry. But it’s also a collection of songs that’s rooted in depressed tendencies.
Hence, while really good in places, there is a tendency for it to leave you on a downer, even though you may find yourself morbidly drawn to it.
If debut album Dear… was lovelorn, Birthdays goes further. Lead single Lying To You may bear all the hallmarks of a love song, but instead it examines how painfully easy it is to be with someone you don’t love. The guitars are intricately woven around fragile vocals, which give extra heartbroken resonance to the emotions at play.
Album opener Teach Me similarly longs for someone to convince you to feel something for them, when in truth you feel nothing, and is a similarly stripped back starting point.
But it’s very much the formula for this particular collection, which only breaks from is tender, stripped back approach on a couple of occasion. But when it does, you’re generally talking about highlights.
The first signs of slow-build progression come around the midway point of The Best Today, another track that offers fleeting hope and then sombre resignation – on this occasion recalling how you can fall for someone fleetingly on the Tube and then forget them in the next instant.
Don’t Swim, however, is when Henson really forces you to take notice. It starts off slow and stripped back (more acoustic guitars flitting around thoughtful lyricism), only to suddenly, almost violently explode to life just past the three minute mark.
It’s here that Henson draws on contributions from a number of collaborators (members of The Raveonettes, Band of Horses and an early member of Pearl Jam all appear). The result is a terrific coda to an otherwise disarming track.
Better yet, that power is maintained throughout Kronos, which feels more like something you might find on a Snow Patrol record or even a Mogwai one. It offers a thrilling and thunderous wall of guitars.
Beekeeper, another track that confronts the issue of loneliness, repeats the trick of Don’t Swim by beginning slowly and then coming to life around the two minute mark. The chorus is a belter and, once again, evidence of Henson at his most broadly appealing.
If the remaining tracks rely a little too much on that stripped back, even haunted approach, there’s still the lyrical honesty to consider. And Henson never shirks away from telling things how he sees it.
Given his lack of a presence in celebrity circles, on social media or even from the live curcuit that often, it’s worth catching his albums if only to check in with what’s going on with him at the moment. His reclusiveness only makes him more compelling.
Download picks: Lying To You, Don’t Swim, Kronos, Beekeeper