‘I am an expressionist; I sing what I say, I say what I feel and I feel what I play by honesty and none other but honesty’.
This is what the London based, Mercury Prize winning artist, Benjamin Clementine had to say about his music. His latest LP ‘At least for now’ (released January 12, 2015, Behind/Virgin EMI) is concrete proof of his honesty and devotion to his art. Gifted with a vocal style reminiscent of the great Nina Simone, Benjamin gives us a glimpse into his mind with deeply moving lyrics fuelled by raw emotion and flamboyance.
With lyrics like ‘Well they say no man can be a prophet in his own country, so I left… here I am’ in the opening ‘Winston Churchill’s Boy’ being an allusion to his struggle in London and eventual rise to fame in Paris, Benjamin weaves his story with charisma and grace. The album contains some direct references to himself none more so than in ‘St-Clementine on tea and croissants’, a minute long track that sees him repeat the title of the song with barely any instruments and yet somehow manages to hold the listener’s attention with his soothing voice.
Having cited the poet William Blake as one of his inspirations, Benjamin’s grasp of the language is as good as his instrumental skills. He uses a combination of rhyming poetry and spoken word infused with colloquial monologues, seamlessly transitioning between the two. A comparison with Leonard Cohen would not be out of place.
The instrumentation is very minimal throughout the record and includes, among other things ‘little voice breaths’ and a ‘brushing of coats’ for percussion. Despite the minimalism, his technical prowess shines through with moving piano melodies and haunting organs stabs. His structure-less approach gives the music that avant-garde feel, setting him apart from your typical singer songwriter. While his lack of a formal music education may be part responsible for this, it is his drive to express fully his ideas without regard for traditional song writing ‘limitations’ that is responsible for creating a truly unique and instantly recognisable sound.
While ‘Winston Churchill’s boy’, ‘London’ and ‘Condolence’ are particular stand out tracks, this is an album that needs to be listened to in its entirety. David Gilmour while describing their latest ‘The Endless River’ said
There are lots of people who love to listen to a whole piece, all the way through and get really into the mood of the whole thing rather than listening to shorter pieces…and this is for them, really’
‘At least for Now’ is also one such album.
With his superior compositional skills, larger than life live performances and incredibly unique voice, Benjamin Clementine is truly in a league of his own. In him, the sophistication of English music meets the flamboyance of French expressionism and the results are outstanding. They are surreal.
See him in action here –
At Least for Now is out now. Get your copy here