Keaton Henson’s début album Dear is a stellar piece of work, brimming with songs of lost love, but retains an aspect of beauty that binds the record together. This solitary soul is interesting in today’s music industry as crippling stage fright has meant he has done very few live appearances. More interesting is that Keaton Henson is not only a musician, but also an artist and poet, with his artistic tendencies shining through in the album through his poetic lyrics and intricate musicianship. It’s difficult to find much out about this mysterious 23 year old Londoner, with a website which gives little away but Dear recently achieved the accolade of being Zane Lowe’s ‘Album Of The Week’.
Recorded in his West London home directly under the flight path of Heathrow airport, there is a home made feel to the record, with abrupt endings to songs such as ‘Small Hands’ and ‘Party Song’ and a cupboard door supposedly being made to create the creaking in ‘Oliver Dalston Browning’. Henson has also stated that he had to time the recording of songs in conjunction with flights, to ensure nothing would be heard flying overhead, but near the end of ‘Nests’ it still sounds like you can hear the whooooosh of an aeroplane. At 34 minutes, the album is also relatively short but manages 10 tracks in this time. Beginning with a prologue of birdsong, storms, wind chimes and murmurings, the album moves on to ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’, with its fraught guitar strumming and Henson croaking lyrics like “does his love make your head spin?”. The album progresses to one of the strongest tracks, ‘Oliver Dalston Browning’ which demonstrates an even rawer and emotional sound, even in comparison with the rest of the album as he recollects “she left him / he left everything”. Current single ‘Small Hands’ is another of the stand out tracks on the album with a quick tempo and delicate instrumentation alongside Henson listing what he misses as a result of his recent heartbreak singing “I hope for your life / you can forget about mine”. Furthermore, this track is accompanied by a rather bewitching, yet sorrow-filled video which features cute woodland animals losing their partners; it’s all a bit dark.
Towards the end of the record, the tracks become a bit similar and repetitive with tracks such as ‘Flesh And Bone’ repeating previous instrumentation but with less moving results. Closing track ‘Party Song’- although really NOT being a ‘party song’- is a suitable close to the record and is a slower, more reflective track in which he apologises to his lost lover, sounding like he is beginning to forgive which, to be frank, is a bit of a relief for the listener after hearing the rest of the album.
Overall, the album is simple and effective with little more than Henson’s lyrics and acoustic guitar developing a distinctive feel. Repeatedly referred to as being somewhere between Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ and Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ in recent reviews, it is, in my eyes, far more heartfelt and truthful. The tracks on this album have clearly been written and recorded for Henson’s benefit, to try and get over his lover, and this is made clear by the note saying “sweetheart, I am so sorry that they can hear these songs” within the CD. Of course there are some downsides to this album. In the majority of tracks, Henson sounds like he may break down into tears at any second, so listening to the vulnerability in his lyrics can make it a slightly uncomfortable listen, and the theme means the tracks follow a similar, repetitive formula of instrumentation. Nevertheless, the acoustic talent and poetic lyrics which are carefully woven through the album show that Keaton Henson is immensely talented, and that this is a very strong debut album from a very interesting musician.