Keaton Henson’s brand of guitar folk is in full swing on his latest release, the first on Anti- Records, titled Birthdays. Yet another folky singer-songwriter imported from across the pond, Henson’s album is a clear evolution from his previous album Dear which had a tendency to become bogged down in it’s own depression. On Birthdays Henson takes an extremely melodic approach and brings back his narrator -esque lyrics, opening the album with the request to “Teach me how to love you like I wrote” in slow moving ballad “Teach Me”. Comparisons to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and other similar folksy fire side wood cabin singers are inevitable but Henson deftly avoids these by keeping his songs under control and never actually crescendo’ing to a crest. The variance between tracks is subtle but after a few spins, listeners are able to pick up on the intricacies that initially go by unnoticed such as the high ethereal choir on “Lying To You” or the almost tide like ebb and flow of “The Best Today”.
On other stand out tracks throughout the album, Henson demonstrates an acute ear for balancing melody and atmosphere. In a huge departure from the rest of the album he opens “Kronos” with a blast of thundering guitar rock that wouldn’t be out of place on a Strokes album while at the same time carrying his melodies and lyrics over a distinctly un-Keaton Henson groove. In fact, almost all of the rest of the album past “Kronos” carries a very sharp departure from the earlier half of the album with “Beekeeper” having an unmistakable buzzing guitar and pounding drums to force the chorus to march. “Milk Teeth” and “In The Morning” are more traditional modern folk songs, with Henson lending his signature wavering breathy voice to slowly building guitar picking and quasi-biographical stories. “If I Don’t Have To” comes throws listeners off guard as a tottering rhythm that rushes forward, almost tripping over itself as listeners wait for the inevitable peak that feels as if it will never come. When Henson does elect to grow his songs past his comfortable guitar picking however, it works extremely well. The low end rumble and Mumford and Sons-esque crescendo of “If I Don’t Have To” makes listeners wish that there had been more songs like it rather than the repetitive early guitar picking present across the first few tracks.
All in all the album is extremely solid and Henson fully takes advantage of the often exploratory nature of sophomore albums. Standout tracks like “On The News”, “If I Don’t Have To”, and “Beekeeper” show that Henson has the potential to move beyond the Bon Iver and other folksy comparisons if given the chance. You can hear his entire album here you can follow his tour at http://www.keatonhenson.com