Benjamin Clementine – ‘At Least For Now’

It seems everyone wants to tell and talk about Benjamin Clementine‘s life story. However, no one does so better than Clementine himself on At Least For Now; so, let’s leave that to him. In addition to his intensely personal narratives, the overwhelming musicality on this album continues to reinvent itself track after track.

There are particular details that continue to reveal themselves on each subsequent listen. On “London” AKA “My 2015 Summer Jam”, the initial drum groove has a snare click on the backbeat as well as a traditional snare drum sound dancing around the other rhythmic elements. In addition to having this same combination of sounds, “Nemesis” also features repeated sections that have subtly obvious differences between them. These aspects reveal Clementine’s focus on skillfully crafting the details.

On the opposite side of his focus spectrum, the overall structure of At Least For Now was also skillfully crafted. For example, “Adios”, the fourth track, sets up the next two tracks. Halfway through the song, the music cuts out, Clementine explains how angels sing to him, and then gives an example of how they sound. This then gives way to the original musical statement. “St-Clementine-on-Tea-and-Croissants”, the track immediately following, while certainly in the same vein as the “Adios” interlude, stands out quite a bit from the rest of the album. The other song alluded to, “Nemesis”, carries the same time feel, tonal center, and subject matter as the main part of “Adios”. One could spend all day re-calibrating a musical telescope on this album and continue to find little gems like this.

Many artists have a song that attempts the slow push until the big ending, but not many actually achieve it. Like V for Vendetta taking an entire movie to build to the final explosion, Benjamin Clementine does not fall short. “Condolence” starts like a whisper, like a vague intention. The piano applies ceaseless pressure to the forward motion, and each bump from the drums is a little more fuel added to the fire.

And in a most organic way, the push isn’t always up. No, sometimes it relaxes and creates drama; each time it starts again makes for more anticipation. The first big build leads to where the first chorus should be, but it pulls back at the last moment settling back into the original groove. The second big build doesn’t have lyrics; so, you know that you’ve got at least one more big build before hitting pay dirt.

As he starts the last big build before the climax, he reminds us how far we’ve come in the previous three minutes and ten seconds. “Then out of nothing–out of absolutely nothing–I, Benjamin, I was born. So that when I become someone one day, I’ll always remember that I came from nothing.” And he really stretches this last build, making it nearly twice as long as the first two. Then, it hits. In the video, you see him sing for the first time, as he offers his condolence to fear and insecurities; a pretty bad ass endeavor.

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Like the delayed gratification in “Condolence”, many tracks sport grooves that don’t begin until more than halfway through the song, such as “Winston Churchill’s Boy” and “The People and I”. Knowing the beat eventually drops in sets up anticipation over the course of multiple listens. Other tracks have odd song structures or elements that break from traditional song forms. “London” has these time warping slowdowns before each chorus, and “Quiver A Little” features some unsettling whispering and maniacal laughing in between sung lyrics amidst what might otherwise be a perfectly normal song.

At Least For Now plays like an impressionist painting. Just a little bit of extra time with each track reveals an entirely new and previously unknown world, both lyrically and musically. With great precision, Clementine takes aim at the music lover’s soul, striking universal human truths and leaving his own signature all over every impact.

Benjamin Clementine’s At Least For Now is out on iTunes and Amazon.