One of the most rewarding and emotive listening experiences of the year
Philip Giouras
18:05 20th October 2020

More about:

Keaton Henson wasn’t expected to return to music, at least not in a traditional sense. After releasing the seemingly conclusive one-off single ‘Epilogue’ in 2016, it seemed that Henson, a notable recluse and introverted musician would return once again to the shadows. Whilst he did reappear shortly after for the release of an instrumental experimentative orchestrated record Six Lethargies, performed in full at the Barbican, it’s been over four years since he’s released a record of new singer-songwriter material. Monument is born out of a life-altering, shattering experience; the slow decline and death of his father after a decade-long illness. The result is a candid, devastating catharsis that demands your attention.

Henson gets deep under your skin: his voice, his words manage to connect with the emotions we try to bury, try to bottle up inside. Anyone that’s experienced that specific slow grief, anxiety about the inevitability of an illness that is slowly tearing away at a loved one will feel deeply struck by ‘Prayer’. Each time Henson sings “I’m losing you” it feels like a gut punch. The album up to this point has been patient and methodical: ‘Prayer’ is a turning point in which Henson truly indulges himself in the melancholy, sinking the listener into his pain with him. The result is a wordless cacophony of orchestration and emotions.

Twisted inside this instrumental outpouring are voice messages, from family videos perhaps. You hear Henson’s father speak lovingly to his son “Keaton, wave to daddy” and the air leaves your lungs. It’s one of the single most heart-breaking moments we’ve endured whilst listening to music.

If there are indeed stages to grief, the following track ‘While I Can’ is the process of recognizing the situation, accepting a ticking clock, and releasing that emotion. The sound of loud pounding drums melded in with acoustic twangs in the chorus provides a stadium rock, Fleet Foxes styled explosion. A complete juxtaposition to ‘Prayer’, it’s the cathartic deep breath before a scream. Crucially, however, it’s a pivotal moment for the album and story as a whole as Henson segues from anger into an acknowledgment of his grief.

Whilst death is the heaviest and most noticeable theme on the record, there are also so many beautiful and surprising moments scattered throughout. ‘Husk’ feels like an ode to the long lost ballroom love song, a rhythm that would fittingly soundtrack the first dance at a wedding. Opener ‘Ambulance’ is a touching and scene-setting contemplative look inwards that explores Henson’s struggle with imposter syndrome even a decade down the line from his debut album: “I’m half a songwriter, half a man, not fully either”. 

The album is filled with raw emotion in each track. ‘Bed’ is an utterly sobering experience; in ‘The Grand Old Reason’ Henson sounds at the brink of tears as each word struggles to leave his lips “I’m just so f**king sorry that you’re afraid”. It’s an incredibly hard and challenging listen, especially going through the album in a complete singular listen, but it’s one of the most rewarding and emotive experiences of the year. “I’m empty, but doesn’t it sound so good?” sings Henson early into the record, and honestly, has one line delivered such an emotive and powerful reflection of an entire record before? Now excuse me as I wipe away a tear and press play once again.

Monument arrives 23 October via Play It Again Sam.

More about:

Photo: Press