Keaton Henson Kindly Now

Keaton Henson Kindly Now
Keaton Henson established himself as a terribly sad and self-pitying poet with his first two albums of soft-spoken indie folk, then, in 2014, achieved similar emotional effect with Romantic Works, an album of instrumental classical string compositions. In 2015 he ventured into James Blake-ish electronic music on Behaving, with skittering beats and pitch-shifted vocal samples. His latest album takes his folky songwriting to the piano, with more fleshed out orchestral arrangements, and it's some of his best work yet.
"March" opens the album with an intriguing mix of vocal sampling and chopping with lush string chords, but there's hardly any other electronic stuff here. Listeners will hardly miss it; we're immediately treated to the strong songwriting of "Alright," which demonstrates Henson's love of Randy Newman filtered through Morrissey's misery.
The dramatic orchestral arrangement on "The Pugilist" overpowers his vocals, making them feel all the more piteous. His plea, "I'm frightened, frightened to death you'll forget / Don't forget me," speaks to childish insecurities that many of us still struggle to shake off as adults. On "Good Lust" the ghosts of past lovers seem to whisper nearby in the form of strings, clarinet and breathy samples. "Polyhymnia" features agile bass clarinet supporting Henson's pained, but somehow still (barely) optimistic, vocal. "Old Lovers in Dressing Rooms" references "Teach Me" from Birthdays with the line "Did you love me like the way you wrote? / Well I'm afraid so."
While his experimentation is rewarding, "Holy Lover" and "Comfortable Love" suffer from unnecessarily boisterous drums ill-suited to his delicate voice; the electronic percussion from Behaving might've been a better choice to maintain the intimacy he is loved for.
But then, no talented and creative songwriter is perfect. Keaton Henson's evolution has been exciting to behold, and Kindly Now is another compelling release. (PIAS)