Album: Keaton Henson – Monument review

By Craig Howieson

From death’s dark shadow, Keaton Henson takes a tentative step into the light on beautiful new record – Monument

In a perfect world, Keaton Henson wouldn’t have to promote his music. He would distil himself into sounds, write his songs, then usher them out the door to be picked up (or not) by those who may need them. So intimate and intricate are the structures he creates that it can feel at times he never intended for them to be heard at all. Like a startled rabbit, he tries to claw his words back as soon as he has uttered them and bound back down the warrens with them from whence they came. But Henson is a man of deep thinking who cannot help but unravel his world in melodies. There is seemingly nowhere else for him to channel his experiences of love, regret and perseverance. 

Informed by loss and laden with an inevitable weight, his latest record, Monument, is no different. Dealing with the death of his father, his eleven new tracks quietly pick at the scabs of grief – re-living pain and trauma but ultimately revealing new skin underneath. It may be forever changed, but healed just enough to continue on. Henson’s music has always held an age-worn sparseness, centring around acoustic guitar, piano and his quivering voice. Monument contains that same inherent loneliness, but it is also a record in which sounds lurk in every corner. Tape loops pierce through cracks in peeling paper, barely audible synths prop up his bravest moments of soul-bearing, and the faintest of counter-melodies lap like ripples in moonlit pools. The cumulative effect gives the record a reassurance; a background hum that acts as proof that the murmur of life goes on in spite of our personal struggles. 

Henson’s songs have never drawn attention to themselves. And those familiar with his previous albums will know that they have a reserved shyness that further obscure them from view. Monument, in much the same way, does not court the limelight, but it does seem happier to be found. While the candid, breathy whispers of Bed and Thesis are the exquisite glances of soul trembling connection we may have come to expect from Henson, Husk’s dreamy ballroom waltz and the R&B melodies and southern thunderclap chorus of While I Can are moments as bold as any he has ever tried before.

Like your quiet, trusted friend – the one who really listens and understands, who provides counsel and makes sense of the things you cannot – Henson is at his most profound when he is direct. On The Grand Old Reason, he captures with startling simplicity the traumatic realisation we’ll all face when losing someone close (‘We’ll all miss you to death /  When you go’). As orchestral swells mix with tape recordings of his late father’s voice on Palace, a crushing reality falls upon his songwriting as if he is sharing this with you alone. 

Monument, as such, leaves the listener torn; on the one hand, deeply sorry for what Henson has had to endure to create it, but, on the other, ultimately thankful that he has chosen to put it out into the world. As Henson himself sings on album closer, Bygones, ‘I write songs to wake me / every chorus breaks me,’ he recognises that despite the personal toll, his songs act as his own salvation. Henson is a unique talent – one that we are lucky to have left the door to his world open.

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