Keaton Henson’s brand of sad bastard folk music explains why I’m in therapy. The fragile English singer-songwriter/professional introvert hangs his many anxieties on each of his guitar’s six strings, where they moan and shiver and yelp, creating cough syrup for any self-respecting manic depressive. His folksy 2010 debut, Dear…, was a hard beatific listen that tickled the loins with songs like ”You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are”, “Not That You’d Even Notice”, and the ironic closer “Party Song”. These struggling meditations weren’t so much histrionics, but rather raw manuscripts of Henson’s overwhelming personality and reclusive nature, the likes of which has had heightened hesitations to tour, be around people, or live in the city.
Such curiosity continues on his sophomore followup, Birthdays. Picking up where its predecessor left off, there’s an allotment of background noise and fumbling before Henson offers his thesis: “Teach me how to love you like I wrote.” Some might cringe at the self-obsessed lyricism, but that’s his thing, and if we’re to treat this as autographical (which we should, considering he addresses himself throughout), he’s probably one of the few people he knows best. And that’s a sad romantic, whose life hinges on intimate relationships, mental sonnets, and bruised confessionals. Yet whereas Dear… focused on this angst strictly through words, Henson does one better and channels his frustrations into a bevy of instrumentation.
Few albums require spoiler alerts, but Birthdays’ sweeping value lies in its electrified surprises. While the album’s rustic first half simmers the songwriter with the myriad Jeff Buckley and Justin Vernon comparisons, it’s the last seven tracks where Henson embraces the exploratory nature of a second album. The steady climb of “Don’t Swim”, that crunchy sludge of “Kronos”, the flavored trail mix within “Beekeeper”, and the bedside romanticism of “In the Morning” spotlight an evolving songwriter that’s ready to put on some shoes and join the world. And really, that’s the sort of hopeful progress that keeps anyone intriguing.
Essential Tracks: “Don’t Swim”, “Sweetheart, What Have You Done To Us”, and “In the Morning”