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Keaton Henson’s new album Monument is a rare thing. It is an album about loss, and dealing with losing the ones we love, but told, in incredibly candid detail, through the aspects of our lives that surround the trauma itself, about love, ageing, recovery, life, seen through the prism of grief.
With the posting of an enigmatic and cryptic goodbye in 2016; Epilogue, Henson’s next project ended up becoming Six Lethargies, a complex and ambitious symphony for string orchestra, dealing with the minutiae of mental illness. He put away the guitar and retreated to his home for three years to compose it. Monument now finds Keaton re-emerging with an album of songs about grief, and how it permeates our lives.
The record began when, having recovered from both Six Lethargies and the circumstances that inspired it, Henson moved from London to the wilds of the English countryside, spending long days outside chopping wood, tending to the grounds, and watching birds of prey soaring above. It was from this remote outpost that he finally felt ready to look at a subject he had been avoiding for his entire songwriting career; the decades long illness, and imminent death of his father, who passed two days before he finished recording the album.
Keaton: “I suppose it is, at its heart, much like my first record; a collection of things I wanted to say, just so they’re out of my system, and not necessarily for anyone else to hear. I made it at home, mostly alone, to the sound of birds and rainstorms, at strange hours of day and night. But, once the bones were recorded, I was somewhat unexpectedly joined by an amazing group of people, who came to musically lift me on their shoulders, and take these unsaid feelings to another plain in terms of sound.”
These people came in the form of Radiohead’s Philip Selway providing drums and percussion, guitars provided by Leo Abrahams, saxophones from composer Charlotte Harding and at one point a full string section.
It culminates in a record that is at once intensely intimate and vulnerable, but carries with it a confidence and elevation in its musical language; the simple up-close picking of Henson’s guitar lifted on a soft bed of electronics and lo-fi tape sound, the moments of joyful acceptance punctuated by soaring drums and woodwinds, that feels like jumping in a cold pool on a warm day.
The sound of tape and VHS are a crucial vein that run throughout the album, carrying the feeling of memory and nostalgia, family and childhood. The subtle recurring use of home video sounds suddenly brings the biographical nature of the album to life, before receding again into the background.
2. Self Portrait
4. Career Day
6. While I Can
8. The Grand Old Reason