Review Summary: Solitude.Birthdays
is a unique opportunity to gaze into the mind of an artist that is normally sealed shut. Keaton Henson is a solitary creature, as he admits blatantly in “Lying to You”, one that sits in his quaint bungalow alone and draws, and as this album is so beautifully an example of, writes music. This music is not for the faint of heart or the ill of will. The breakable, at times desperate timbre of his somber vocalizations, perhaps a modified take on Elliott Smith at his most rattled, are enough to reduce the strongest to the weakest, the predator to the prey, the lion to the gazelle, the raging bull to the quietest mouse, and so on and so forth.
The delicately beautiful and depressive melodies of his guitar strumming (“10 AM, Gare Du Nord” among many others) and, in some moments, accented by minimalistic percussion, female backing vocals, piano and strings, can drill unforgiving holes into where one is most vulnerable; the troubling Achilles Heel in all of us. All of this is then ripped apart when the second half of “Don’t Swim” and especially or most surprisingly, “Kronos”, rolls on the tape, as an explosion of aggressive, electric eruption breaks the surface of the otherwise deeply introspective and painfully brittle experience. Despite maintaining his fragile undertone on the latter, Keaton sings with an acidic and caustic bite that evokes the image of him throwing a flower vase as an ultimate “f*ck you” towards a broken love that he once thought may have been the stereotypical “one”, an ordeal that many can relate with all too well. This is one of the things that Keaton does so effectively, despite his anxiety-filled solitude and unique surroundings, he can still create songs that are completely identifiable and devastatingly scalding at the same time. He does not saturate his lyrics with unnecessary metaphors or pretentious nonsense, this would not fit such a sound, and we should be thankful for that.
Keaton Henson has created an entirely new dimension to his creativity with Birthdays
, one that builds on the ideas introduced on Dear...
and wraps them in a wholly familiar, yet entirely fresh package. It is an album that can make you destructively depressed and softly joyful at the same point, perhaps the climax of “Sweetheart, What Have You Done to Us” is a terrific example of that, or maybe it is not and I should just let you decide. I am sure that is what Keaton would want, but personally, I’m not going to expect an answer.