Review Summary: I give up - I'm going to live if it kills me.Monument
, somewhat ironically, begins with a song of self-reflection. “Ambulance” has a theme that is becoming increasingly common, one of an entertainer’s cry for help being ignored as he becomes an object of fan worship. Although a slower-paced song, “Ambulance” is also Keaton’s most catchy work since his debut album “Dear”, adding an additional level of irony, as lyrics describing a broken man are hidden behind a hummable tune. “Ambulance” also has a darkly acerbic quality as the album progresses. it discusses Keaton’s metaphorical death in regards to his art, all while he is quite literally dealing with the death. More specifically, the death of his father, who passed away from a years long bout with cancer just two days before Keaton finished recording Monument
. “Ambulance” introduces the album with a more palatable discussion of death and grieving, an appetizer of a song that prepares the listener for a sobering look at the grieving process and an ode to Keaton’s father.
Keaton has admitted that many of the songs that made this album were not necessarily meant to be heard by any sort of audience. Monument
is a quiet piece of work with a few impactful exceptions, but the raw emotions on display still make Monument
a deeply rich and engaging album. “Self-Portrait” displays intricate guitar work backing Henson’s tale of living day-to-day with the task of embracing one’s own mortality. This simple style describes a number of songs throughout the album, such as “Career Day” and “Bed”. However, even though nearly every song follows the same pattern of hushed vocals singing of death and loss backed by some intricately picked guitars, Henson manages to keep the entire listen engaging due to small, crucial details. This is an album where the periods of silence are a crucial part of the music and where slight changes in dynamic tell a story in themselves. Masterful composition has created moments where a gradual shift from piano
and then down to pianissimo
can occur in seconds but contain multitudes. One of the most impactful moments on the album is the four seconds of near-silence that come in “Bed”, with those seconds signifying the exact moment of death for Keaton’s father. No words need to be sung, no instruments need to be played - The silence speaks for itself.
With that being said, the moments where the compositions do break loose manage to create incredibly moving moments. Third track “Ontario” is the first song that provides us with a full band backing, fitting the theme of the song, which describes Henson feeling something
for the first time in a long time as he is travelling through the coldness of Canada. “While I Can'' is the most anthemic that Keaton gets on the album, while “Husk” is a rich, dreamy waltz. “While I Can” is particularly interesting within the theme of the album, as it has Henson declaring ”I wanna love you while”
, backed by saxophone and a driving beat. “While I Can” is the song that is most likely to be interpreted as being about hope, but it appears to be more indignant than hopeful. “While I Can” is about how life goes on even after tragedy, but it is mostly about how that tragedy will shape every single day for the rest of your life. “Husk” is a perfect companion piece to “While I Can”, as it is about the betrayal of time. The more time that is spent consumed in grief turns into less time that we have to continue living our lives after tragedy, even knowing that that grief will be with us constantly. These songs are not necessarily about hope or trying to move on - They are about facts of life.
In the middle of Monument
comes “Prayer”, the emotional focal point of the album. “Prayer” is a song in two parts, beginning with piano and Keaton’s vocals and transitioning into a swell of strings. The song is also Keaton mourning his father in the most direct manner found on the album. The chorus is simply Keaton singing ”Speak up/Speak up/I’m losing you/I’m losing you
, clearly on the verge of tears. The song reflects on the fact that, even after years of preparation, nothing can you prepare you for loss. As the strings swell, background noise from a home video enters the fray, with largely inaudible voices behind the orchestrations. As the strings fade, the song ends with one line, clear as day, from the home recording.
“Keaton - Wave to daddy!
This is the part of the review where I share that I lost my father just three weeks ago. It was a sudden heart attack the day after my 24th birthday. This is, of course, very different from the process that Keaton went through with his father’s cancer. Nevertheless, the outcome was the same for the both of us - Indescribable, immeasurable loss. This album will, of course, conjure thoughts of Carrie and Lowell
or A Crow Looked At Me
, but Monument
approaches the topic of death in a much different lens, speaking largely in prose and metaphor, with specific details of Keaton’s father breaking through occasionally. While Monument
is, without mistake, deeply personal to Keaton and his experience, it is also an incredibly universal album, whether someone has shared a similar pain or not. Death is as much of a part of the human experience as living is and Keaton has perfectly captured the emotions that accompany experiencing death in your life.
“But you much like I, don't know where
When we die we will go
So we cling, desperate fingers
And we'll all miss you to death
When you go