Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Chamber Pop
There’s a line early on in his fourth album which could be summed up as the quintessential Keation Henson lyric: “Don’t make me go outside. God knows what out there lies.” For Henson’s music, ever since he first appeared in 2010 with his debut album Dear… has been defined by his anxiety. He rarely tours or gives interviews, instead preferring to perform occasionally in venues such as churches or museums.
His work to date has seen London-born singer-songwriter Keaton Henson establish a fragile style of brutal honesty; all mournful vocals set to sighing strings. Kindly Now doesn’t see him straying too far from that path, with Alright, How Could I Have Known and No Witnesses as reflective and introspective as anything on previous album Birthdays. However, the experience of working on the instrumental Romantic Works and Behaving’s electronica has clearly shaped this release, most notably with the inclusion of cut-up vocals on the opener March, delicate strings on NW Overture, and the haunting, jewellery-box sounds of Gabe.
Keaton Henson established himself as a terribly sad and self-pitying poet with his first two albums of soft-spoken indie folk, then, in 2014, achieved similar emotional effect with Romantic Works, an album of instrumental classical string compositions. In 2015 he ventured into James Blake-ish electronic music on Behaving, with skittering beats and pitch-shifted vocal samples. His latest album takes his folky songwriting to the piano, with more fleshed out orchestral arrangements, and it's some of his best work yet."March" opens the album with an intriguing mix of vocal sampling and chopping with lush string chords, but there's hardly any other electronic stuff here.
“Who needs comfortable love?” runs one of the choruses here, signalling that singer-songwriter Keaton Henson’s romantic outlook has changed little since his breakthrough album Birthdays. Fans of that record will find much to love on this one too. There’s a similar mood of early-hours anguish as Henson’s vocals drift over minimal arrangements for piano and guitar or fuller orchestral passages.
Keaton Henson’s first two solo albums are a collection of fraught, overwhelmingly emotional ballads for the broken-hearted to wallow in. For the most part, it’s still very much business as usual with the release of ‘Kindly Now’, but there’s a spirit about this new record that ensures Henson isn’t repeating himself. ‘Kindly Now’ follows the instrumental album ‘Romantic Works’, which saw Henson collaborate with cellist Ren Ford, a project which has evidently proved inspiring and influential in the making of this album, with the songs here benefiting from added layers compared to the sparse sound of previous records.
After a second album of fragile confessionals in 2013's Birthdays, Keaton Henson released a collection of instrumentals with cellist Ren Ford called Romantic Works. He followed that with a more experimental, partly electronic record that he released under the alias Behaving. Kindly Now picks up where Birthdays left off, with a mix of sparse singer/songwriter fare and lusher chamber pop.
Keaton Henson emerged as an anxiety-ridden, maudlin singer-songwriter who felt uncomfortable with live performance. Much acclaim later, Kindly Now offers reflections on his subsequent career via songs about love, lust and the role of ego in making music. All decent enough subjects, but Henson treats them as if he has discovered the keys to life eternal and lays everything on with a trowel.