he sixth cut is the deepest for Keaton Henson as Kindly Now bears witness to the indie folk singer lamenting his lost loves, the loneliness of lyricism and his legacy.
His penchant for crafting very minimal guitar and piano arrangements to accompany his hushed, warbled crooning is still at the forefront of this follow up to 2014’s instrumental collaboration with Ren Ford, Romantic Works. Henson’s perpetually sombre style lays itself down heavily on ‘Old Lovers in Dressing Rooms’ as he softly whispers “And did you love me like the way you wrote?/ Well I’m afraid so, I’m afraid so”.
In fact much of Kindly Now carries that same sense of vulnerability; that isolation you feel after a sleepless night spent alone watching the orange haze outside turn to grey; those moments which invite infinite introspection but all the same are temporary. On the fifth track, ‘No Witnesses’, Keaton shares just this kind of experience with his listeners as he reminisces over another ghost of his past “I hope to burn away the sight of you/ And as the sun sets over Hollywood/ I have nothing else to do”.
There’s a new sinister optimism emerging
Some people may listen to this record and hear stagnancy. The whine of an ageing man who can’t seem to stay in love but wallows in his lack of it. I don’t think those critics would be necessarily wrong in their assertions either. But Keaton himself knows this and is beginning to call himself out on it. ‘The Pugilist’ and ‘Polyhymnia’ explore his practically sadomasochistic relationship with his art and happiness against the backdrop of rising orchestral swooning.
There’s also a new sinister optimism emerging amidst the gloom of much of the record, albeit fleetingly. Opening track ‘March’ is the overture of the album with Keaton’s voice looped over samples of music that make up the album. The looped mantra of “I think I love you/ Baby please don’t be afraid of me” form the entirety of ‘Holy Lover’. The lyrics are not a marked departure from the Keaton we already know; but their presentation is an adventure, one that leads down a road to a very James Blake-influenced next album perhaps…
For now though, the electronic textures that litter Kindly Now are simply a bittersweet goodbye to the man behind Dear (2012) and Birthdays (2013) as his focus shifts more towards instrumentation than introspective lyrics. In his own words from ‘Alright’ the first song he wrote for this album – “Obviously / My wounds are open to see /But don’t take them seriously/ I’ll be fine”.
Kindly Now delicately balances Henson’s own overwhelmingly internal struggles with his creative process and relationships with a more universal sense of sadness and hope. It was never going to be a cheerful listen but for sure Henson’s now allowing us to see where the shadows of his mind fade a little and the light gets in.