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Monday, April 29, 2013

Keaton Henson

Birthdays (Anti/Epitaph)

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Pensive, warbly, damaged—it’s hard to tell whether sad sack Keaton Henson’s voice is a heartfelt affectation or if he’s simply been listening to too much Jeff Buckley. Minimal electric guitar plucks and a haunted resonating production back a voice that urges in breathy falsetto “please do not hurt me love, I am a fragile one,” in the ultimate example of songwriting showing and telling. And while there’s an undeniable conversational, confessional tone intimated on Henson’s second from-the-bedroom album, it’s hard not to worry he won’t be blown away by a swift wind or a steady beat.

Once the drums and band do come, there’s hope, there’s drive and there is the lush and lovely “Beekeeper.” But it’s an album highlight that deals with the specter of the devil, doubt and the looming prospect of insanity.

It is the always-tenuous line between navel-gazing moping and late-night profundity. And when the notorious loner philosophizes on having “enough pain to last the rest of my life,” requests that “if you must die, remember your life” or wonders “Sweetheart, what have you done to us?” it’s up to each listener’s own gut to groan at the fragile 24-year-old flower or feel Emersonian swirls. In a neo-folkie vanguard rife with Bon Iver emulators, Henson’s is a voice that might put many to sleep. But upon closer examination, it is a coo both hard to forget, and capable of placing him appropriately near the top of suicide watch.

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