Review: Keaton Henson – Kindly Now

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Maybe Keaton Henson's saddest album yet...

Kindly Now, the latest outing from the reliably lovelorn Keaton Henson, moves to places foreign to the bearded bard’s usual repertoire of sad, quiet piano laments, with electronic elements and drums taking the limelight on certain tracks. Whilst experimentation is welcome – as much as the distorted guitars on ‘Kronos’ from 2013’s Birthdays were – these decidedly different songs stick out like sore thumbs on the pianist’s hands, feeling frankly more derivative than his folky brand of sulking.

Even though the record’s more sedate, acoustic moments can leave you feeling just as glum as most of Henson’s previous efforts, the charm has unfortunately begun to wear off. The outliers that try to break the mould on Kindly Now feel like they exist purely for the sake of it, whilst the material that clings to the tried-and-tested methods mostly sounds tired out, especially as far as lyrical subject matter goes. Maybe there’s only so many times you can listen to the same person sound as distraught as Henson does before you stop feeling affected by it and start thinking that he should maybe find something else to write about.

‘No Witnesses’ is one of the better tracks on the record, casting gimmicks aside in favour of some sparse piano and vocals, harking back to the Dear days more than most of the new album’s offerings do. Yet, as touching and sullen as it is, the substance and stuff of the song is just quite boring. I guess a lot of Henson’s fans will be happy to lap up another 47 minutes or so of lovesick lullabies, but by this point I’d be more interested in anything else. ‘Old Lovers In Dressing Rooms,’ ‘Polyhymnia,’ and ‘How Could I Have Known’ slip safely into that same category: sad songs for sad people who want to feel… sad. It’s a niche that used to be endearing, but the charm is truly wearing thin.

Lead single ‘Alright’ is probably the strongest part of the album – despite being tangled up in the same romantic landscape as the rest of Kindly Now, some clever lyrics and a really charming melody help it stand out from the crowd a little. Then there’s the others: ‘Comfortable Love,’ with its screeching chorus full of something resembling adolescent angst, and the acapella-ish ‘Holy Lover’ stick out the most. They’re not necessarily bad – they just sound like Henson’s same old pining stuck in a different style for the purpose of shaking things up a little. The latter song entirely consists of a single phrase (“I think I love you / Baby, please don’t be afraid of me”) repeated and layered more times than you can ask why this is worthy of a place on an album.

I’m not incredibly disappointed with Kindly Now, probably because Keaton Henson’s first two records and the ‘bedroom classical’ LP Romantic Works were such stunning and emotionally stimulating collections of music. This new effort just doesn’t hit the same pinnacles as his previous ones, despite drawing on largely the same musical motivations and executions. When Kindly Now isn’t trying to be Dear, it’s failing to be something more appealing.

Kindly Now is out now via Play It Again Sam

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