Keaton Henson, multi-talented artist that he is, has never shied away from fully and deeply exploring a variety of mediums and genres. He found a faithful listener base with the beautifully heartbreaking singer-songwriter style of his 2010 debut, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make a mysterious electronic side project titled Behaving, an instrumental piano and cello album with Ren Ford, or compose an emotionally devastating mental-health themed orchestral album (Six Lethargies). All of this music and more comes alongside his work as a poet and visual artist. This plus his rare use of social media or publicity means that you never really know what he’s going to do next, other than that it’s going to be creative and vulnerable and impressive.
With his new single Ontario, this English artist once again graces us with his singer/songwriter skills, following up on the sound of albums Dear, Birthdays, and Kindly Now. Ever present are his lovely piano chords and quintessential quiet vocals. But as always, Keaton Henson continues to grow and evolve his style in subtle and interesting ways. The first new ear-catching element is calming, organ-like synth which take a leading role, and then further into the song comes the use of bass guitar which has been rare to grace a Keaton track thus far in his career. The bass brings a solid groove to the quiet contemplation of Ontario.
Keaton isn’t just evolving sonically: the most profound shift can be found in the lyrics, which explore belonging and love without any of the heartbreak, pessimism, and despair of his previous works. It’s a love song to Ontario that finds joy in the small and the unexpected, like the cold of the Canadian winter. As someone who lives in Ontario myself, finding joy in those often dreary times isn’t always easy, but Keaton has such warmth in his voice when he sings about the Canadian province that it almost makes me long for the cold. Speaking on this, Keaton says, “I have found great solace in the icy winds of Canada. Where, upon opening the door in the morning, the instant freezing of your skin takes any lingering sleeplessness and unreason from you, making you move forward, no matter what else is going on. It is an ode to that landscape, and a portrait of a place I find beautiful, albeit strange.” How poetic is that!
To accompany the music Keaton has released a video featuring Ontario landscapes and wildlife which he filmed during his time living there. Proceeds from single sales will be split between an Ottawa based Indigenous activist group (@legacyofhopefound) and a UK organization which supports women experiencing violence and abuse and other forms of inequality, with a focus on the needs of black and minority women (@southallblacksisters).