5 November 2015

Benjamin Clementine - At Least For Now


The Mercury 2015 Music Awards are here, and it's time for me, your humble narrator, to review something which people would not expect me to listen to, and in fact would expect me to hate. In 2013 I reviewed Laura Mvula which I didn't like but in 2014, I reviewed Young Fathers which has remained a staple of mine to this very day. Granted, my musical tastes are usually not too varied which is why I try to review stuff I'd not normally go for.

I've never heard of Benjamin Clementine before, but from what I've read (mostly on wiki, to be fair), he was born in London in 1988 and proved to be quite adept at piano when a youngster. Growing up, it is said he was bullied at school where he'd bunk off - but would go down the library and read poetry books for hours on end. When he left school, he began to lead a somewhat transient lifestyle, ending up in Paris where he'd write songs, play in bars and busk in the Parisian streets before he was spotted by a talent agent. In 2012, he played at a French music festival where he then got together with a business mogul and set up a record label in order to get his music recorded.

The debut album - At Least For Now - was initially recorded in 2014 but wasn't released until this year, due to record label politics, allegedly. Reviews have been praising and the album was nominated for this year's Mercury award. I've no idea if this album is any good, this will be my first listen. I was told it was jazz - but not whether it is "blind old guys with pianos" jazz or "everyone coked up making it up on the spot" jazz. Here goes:

1) Winston Churchill's Boy - The album opener. Talks of his past experiences intersped with the former-PM speech during the war. It's not too bad, really. The man has a canny voice on him and the music is very good too. Lush strings and some excellent piano work. Very well put together. Slow one, but it does set a good atmosphere.

2) Then I Heard A Bachelor's Cry - As with the previous track, it opens with a piano, which isn't surprising as that does appear to be the man's instrument of choice. Indeed, he would practice for hours on the family piano at home. More sweeping strings which give the whole thing a melancholic feel. You can tell this was written with soul and not with £££ in mind. Dramatic piano shift which for some reason, reminded me of the piano accompaniment during silent movies. I've no idea why I thought that, but it was certainly dramatic. Very good.

3) London - Something a bit more upbeat, Also sounds a bit more "full" compared to the first two songs. Vocals are still every bit as soaring. Things seem to quieten down a bit midway through the song before getting back up to the previous pace. So far, this is the stand-out song as although the first two were good, this one certainly has more of a kick to it.

4) Adios - Wahay, jaunty piano opening! This is a theme which continues throughout the song while violins join in too. There is deffo something about this song which suggests an eccentric air about it. The closest thing I could compare to it to based on eccentricity alone is an English folk singer called Jake Thackray, his work was quite quirky too. But I don't think even he would then break out into spoke word, then two things which sound like two different songs before going back to the main riff to complete the song. And the best bit about it? It does NOT sound like a cut-and-paste job tacked on at the last minute, It all sounds extremely natural, which is amazing.

5) St-Clementine-On-Tea-And-Croissants (Full Length Version) - Sounds like a chain-gang with the overlayered vocals and percussive accompaniment. Methinks this song was written on a piss-break as there's not really much to it, but it's alright, I guess. Amazing - filler that sounds different to what you'd usually expect from filler. I guess the tea and croissants were spiked with something ever so slightly psychoactive.

6) Nemesis - Another eventful one, quite good. More sweeping strings and piano, not as slow as the first two but more in line with everything from track three onward. There definitely seems to be a theatrical flair to this type of music, worthy of the avant-garde description that's been mentioned.. Certainly doesn't sound like the jazz description I mentioned earlier.

7) The People And I - bringing the pace down a bit while asking "woman, what are you looking for"? Things pick up towards the end with a rousing lead to the finish, but we're otherwise in familiar territory with this one.

8) Condolence - This one sounds very haunting indeed, rolling piano over a square drum beat. I get the impression the drums may be programmed due to their sound, but I can't be sure for certain. The song then marches relentlessly and becomes louder towards the end. Vocals becoming more impassioned.

9) Cornerstone - Another one of those songs that are basically one long piano accompaniment, it's alright, but I find myself preferring the more crazy-batshit aspect of his music.

10) Quiver A Little - Now this is an oddity. Starts off with the solo-piano thing and lyrics which mention "you're a bastard" before going into something more off-beat. Sounds like two songs in one without the cut-and-paste effect. All natural, bro!

11) Gone - Another solo piano thing with slight effects but this one is slightly better than the others on here. A nice way to end the album (Note: the Spotify version of the album has a few more tracks, mainly demos and live stuff, but the iTunes version has the eleven I've just reviewed. Wiki entry for this album mentions two other tracks. For simplicity, I'm keeping it as the eleven I've listened to).

Well, that was a trip and half, make no mistake. A very interesting album. You can tell that a lot of heart and soul has gone into this. Hopefully it'll win the Mercury award as it's certainly worth any positive accolades it's nominated for. The only gripe I have is that the "one man one piano" songs aren't as good as the more crazy moments. More crazy moments would certainly be the order of the day. As someone who mainly listens to musical genres with the word "metal" in the title, I can recommend this.

8/10 - Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.

Chris J

Top Track: Adios

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