I don’t know much about Keaton Henson. That may seem like a strange way to start out an analysis of somebody’s work, something that took them years to create and me only hours to review, but it’s also a surprisingly refreshing way to approach an album and an artist. Apparently, I’m not the only who knows next to nothing about the English singer/songwriter — his fans included. Keaton is a known recluse, touring only sporadically and keeping his private life surprisingly private.
It’s nice to come across somebody who’s simultaneously incredibly guarded and starkly exposed, laying all of his darkest thoughts and deepest emotions on the table in his music. One listen to his latest album, Kindly Now, taught me on thing: Adele knows nothing of heartbreak. Kindly Now is one of the most nakedly emotional creations that I have ever come across, with Henson seemingly unafraid to bare everything from failed relationships to dark personal realizations. These are songs full of the gloomy realizations that run through our minds, but that we would never think to share with others, not even our closest friends and partners. These are the dark spots that we sit around agonizing over, wondering if anybody has thoughts as terrible as we do.
The album serves as a bit of a throwback for me, reminding me of my teenage years spent listening to early Bright Eyes, comforted by Conor Oberst’s and my shared pain. Much like Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (oh my god, Connor. You really were just too much back then), Kindly Now is sometimes embarrassingly overwrought, proving too over-the-top even for even the most melodramatic of listeners. “Comfortable Love” is the main offender, taking things just a little too far with lines like, “I’m bad news like the headlines we read about war.” Luckily, excessive moments like “Comfortable” are just a blip in a sea of gorgeously heartfelt songs. “Alright” is proof of how songs can be both wonderfully simple and emotionally resonant.
Henson reaches the height of brutal self-honesty with “The Pugilist,” a deeply affecting track that finds him singing with the earnestness of Glen Hansard (what is it about the English/Irish men? Are societal norms forcing them to repress their emotions so deeply that the moment they let themselves become vulnerable, their feelings explode like a geyser?) The song reaches its heartbreaking crescendo as Henson repeats, “You’re enough, you’re enough, you’re enough.” It’s a moment of honest self-doubt that is excruciatingly relatable.
For Henson’s sake, I hope life gets easier for him. However, an artist’s misery tends to make the best creative fodder — just ask Adele or Conor. Everybody loves an artist when they’re down.