Keaton Henson’s sophomore release may be the most heartbreaking record of the year—and a welcome one at that. As a vocalist Henson lands somewhere between Wayne Coyne and a more consistent Daniel Johnston; his lyrics have the same emotional honesty as the latter and all the imagination of the former. Henson is his own artist, though, crafting a record that is mostly spare and as much a love letter as it is a missive of resignation.
The sadness that prevails here burns loudest and brightest during songs such as “You”, “Teach Me”, “10 a.m. Gare du Nord” and “In the Morning”. The last could have easily come from Neil Young’s long lost Time Fades Away for the way it marries hope with hopelessness and beauty with sadness. He turns angry on “Kronos”, a song that asks us to imagine collaboration between a subdued Nirvana and the always-beautiful Jeff Buckley.
Birthdays is the kind of record you’re not likely to let go of easily and in coming times it’s likely to be a touchstone recording for a number of singer-songwriters and a measuring stick for critics. It’s the kind of record you can put on late at night while you contemplate past affairs of the heart and good times gone. You can also put it on when you’re feeling good and feel glad that you’ve overcome the demons that seem to plague this gifted artist throughout, no matter how hard he might try to exorcise them.