Kevin Olken Henthorn has spent the past half-decade crafting quiet but intricate bedroom pop, gradually expanding and contracting his sound over the years. After a previous band fell through, he began the Cape Francis project as a way to express his creative energy, forging a creative partnership with producer and engineer Ariel Loh.
After his third record, the reverb-drenched, winding Plateaus, Henthorn wanted to strip back, creating songs he could play by himself without requiring a full band. Writing during a lengthy early-pandemic move to Silver Lake with his partner, what started out as a back-to-basics record gradually became quietly ambitious, as Henthorn challenged himself to write more directly: "I used to created hoops for myself to say something in a more masked way, I wanted to say what I wanted to say. And if it's cheesy, it's cheesy."
Once he began tracking with Loh, he began collaborating with horn player Chloe Rowland (who also played on Plateaus) and string arranger Oliver Hill. On Don’t Let Your Heart Walk Away, Henthorn accidentally resulted in a cross-country chamber pop record that’s still achingly intimate, and his best to date.
The new songs may be stripped back, but the sparseness makes every element feel more significant and surprising. Loh and Henthorn’s sense of space allows room for more ear candy, like the brief distortion after a line about “monsters under your bed” or the hints of mellotron on “Nightwalker.” A pair of love songs toward the end of the record, “When I Am With You” and “Don’t Let Your Heart Walk Away”, even include dramatic string swells, a first for the project.
Lyrically, the record details Henthorn’s commitment to his mental health and his partner, making good on his early notion to write more directly. The opener “Fire Eyes” displays his penchant for contrasting abstract lines with more grounded ones: “Torching a forest fire that’s in my head/Why are you mad at me now, was it something I said?” This recurs throughout the album on songs like stand-out “Is It In Your Head?” (comparing fighting late-night thoughts to “haunting a ghost”) and “Even in the Dark” (where he demands “bones that don’t break” and “cars that last forever,”) but comes to a head on those two lovesick closers, where Henthorn fully gives in to earnestness.
Henthorn feared listeners would find the lighter songs “cheesy,” but “joyous” and “universal” are more accurate terms. A listener might not realize how much they became invested until Henthorn cries on the title track (written with his partner Michelle Birsky), “I never thought I’d ask my heart to stay,” a choice to ignore his neurosis for a future with his loved one. It’s a beautiful, timeless message, and especially rewarding after hearing the struggles with mental health over the previous half-hour. In its own unassuming way, Don’t Let Your Heart Walk Away is something of a mini-epic about overcoming personal issues to love another person - impressive for an album with such simple intentions.