In his endearingly cryptic and mysterious manner, you will rarely catch Keaton Henson on vast tours that spread across the country, and you will certainly never find him in close proximity with a music journalist. In fact, the elusive singer/songwriter, artist, poet and all-round creative master, spends most of his days in his bedroom creating art in the suburbs of London. Crippled by anxiety and persistent panic attacks, he avoids all press interviews and performs only a few scattered shows across the year. That is not to say that Keaton Henson is an artist that lays back in idleness in his reclusive shack; Keaton has revealed much of his visual art at various exhibitions and in a graphic novel entitled ‘Gloaming’, all whilst churning out three melancholy masterpiece albums in the space of a couple of years.
His most recent creation followed the pattern of his past work and was released without warning, and without an onslaught of vulture-like press attention. In fact, as a self-confessed Keaton Henson fan myself, it managed to slip under my hawk-eyed attention as I’ve only just discovered his wistful and simply outstanding ‘Romantic Works’. Keaton has befittingly described the genre of his latest work as ‘bedroom classical’, dominated by cello, woodwind and piano. What is remarkable about his latest change of direction is that Keaton is unable to read music, but with an unswayable penchant for sweeping sorrowful melodies combined with the helping hand of Ren Ford on the cello, it avoids steering into the realms of the mediocre and the amateur. ‘Romantic Works’ opens with ‘Preface’ a short dispersion of woodwind, and other rough and imperfect sounds but the heavy melancholy sound sets in like a downcast storm. There are subtle imperfections throughout the album, where the tone intermittently becomes disjointed, but this fosters its strikingly endearing nature, and distinguishes itself from more intimidating, thoroughly polished classical pieces which face more of an obstacle in connecting with young people.
Instead of expressing his angst, fears, and sorrow through words, such feelings and emotions are rendered triumphantly through mournful sounds of the cello and Keaton on the piano which permeate the sound of the album. It might also be worth considering that the cello itself is an instrument that, historically, has been described as having the greatest resemblance to the human voice, something that I have no doubt Keaton Henson thought about in his incurably intuitive mind. ‘Earnestly Yours’ begins with intricate melodies finessed by Keaton’s mastery over the piano, the familiar sounds of the cello creep in, and then grandly emerge and cultivate an overwhelming sense of innocence and insight into Keaton’s withdrawn, and for us, seemingly unknown world. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to suggest that a piece of work of this calibre may have acted as a catharsis for Keaton; cleaning out the closet of the harrowing words that should perhaps remain unspoken or failing that, thrown out and forgotten. Who knows? Keaton is something of an elusive soul, if you haven’t figured that out already.
…an artist that has cultivated an ardent following through words…
‘Romantic Works’ is something completely unexpected and yet totally predictable in equal, paradoxical measure. Its earnestly sombre framework is largely unsurprising but a total departure from poetry and lyrics is without a doubt offbeat for an artist that has cultivated an ardent following through words which connect with those also tortured by solitude, love, tangled up frustrations and wretched heartache. But, perhaps this is what makes this album more powerful and accessible; it can be interpreted in different conflicting ways, without the concrete grounding and affirmation of lyrical narrative. The narrative is there to be constructed how the listener imagines it to be in their own distinct world, and isn’t that what should be at the core of all art? Be it music or an abstract painting, Keaton Henson understands both forms, and this erupts instinctively in ‘Romantic Works’.
‘Romantic Works’ is out now available to buy in digital or physical format, and available to stream on Spotify.