From the shy boy in a bedroom Keaton Henson has always been a compelling artist. In the four years he's been making 'Kindly Now' he's changed an unprecedented amount, what remains is the often agonising emotion and frail humanity Henson endures for his work.
This album builds on various elements he's begun exploring in other parts of his career, it has much more electronic aspects ('March') and takes his classical elements to new lengths too ('The Pugilist'). He intertwines them with ease to accentuate his voice at just the right moment. For a record concerned somewhat with the artist and legacy "I'm so scared of death I try to leave parts of me here", it's a fine addition to an already sacrosanct body of work.
Henson is a private being, that we know. He rarely tours and when he does it's in small venues, museums and churches. 'Kindly Now' is then an open book into the most private recesses of his mind and it's this dissonance between the two that perturbs Henson endlessly. "I hear the crowds adore you so, but I'm still here I hope you know, don't talk to them about me" he sings on 'Alright' which acts as an open letter to himself. As Henson notes here everything has changed so quickly for him career wise, but his anxieties haven't changed much at all.
'Kindly Now' could have easily been wracked with bitter explanations and melancholy that morphed to drabness in the hands of a lesser artist. Tracks like 'Good Lust' are tense as they depict Henson's failed relationships, but just like 'Comfortable Love' the choppy guitars and careful layering of man-made sounds create a palette that's intensely engrossing rather than depressing.
Henson suffers through the 12 tracks on show here in a distinctly British way, he grits his teeth and gets on with it. There's awkward conversations with exes on the gentle 'Old Lovers in Dressing Rooms' and the constant realisation that things don't always work out. It's comically sad how Henson craves pain, "Polly, won't you stand on my neck, do what you have to I'll write you a check" he breathily sings on the beautifully black 'Polyhmnia'.
Listening to 'Kindly Now' is a little like going backwards through a car crash and Henson's cracked, breathy voice is the paramedic anchoring you and controlling your focus as everything begins to reform around you. By the time the record ends you're driving down the road again waiting for it all to begin.
Henson is still the shy boy in his bedroom, but he's now beginning to open the windows wider. He doesn't just endure for his work, but because of it; his wounds are open for us to see, but don't worry I think he'll be fine.
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