Benjamin Clementine is not a conformist. His eye often strays from the orthodox and established to something more surreal and finicky. Clementine is a modern-day Bartleby, minus the depressive mentality. It’s the demeanor and embodiment of the “I’d rather not” mantra that separates Clementine’s work as something that supersedes art.
The 28-year-old visionary from London believes that language is “as powerful as religion and God” and humans are “bound to fail” without it. On his second album, I Tell a Fly, Clementine’s utilization of language purfles decorated ballads of medieval-inspired, soft rock eloquently. Intertwining spoken word with subtle vocal talent, he creates a profound concept album that is holistically avant-garde and aware.
At times, I Tell a Fly can appear monolithic and lacking in sonic creativity. Clementine hammers familiar sounds of medieval strings and contemporary drum sets into listeners’ heads on this self-produced project. Whether this move was intentional or not, it hinders the album’s enjoyment potential quite a bit. Nevertheless, the strong writing and lyricism covers most of that hole.
The 45 minute project starts with “Farewell Sonata,” a hypnotic adventure that stages the project’s theme of alienation. Malfunctioned reverb spreads a thirty second voiceover of Clementine speaking the French term “c’est la vie,” which translates to “it is the life.” Soon after, intimate piano progressions paint the song’s canvas before Clementine comes back with the frantic words of “Farewell Alien” over electricized harpsichords and cocky drums.
Two tracks later on “Better Sorry Than a Safe,” Clementine’s storytelling is at some of its most refined. “A less safe place is no safe place at all,” he claims. “Behind every lion there lays a lazy dragonfly.”
This punctual writing heralds space for cornerstone and pre-released single “Phantom of Aleppoville.” Changes in rhythm and melody encrust the edges of this track, with Clementine ruminating about Syria, bullies and forgiveness. In the bridge, he sings “No, if the supremacy will come in, now congratulations.”
The second half of the album takes on a more soulful caricature. “Ode From Joyce” and “By the Ports of Europe” features emphases on drum patterns and Clementine’s singing abilities. Fuzzy piano melodies accompany his words seamlessly.
On the album’s finale, “Ave Dreamer,” Clementine reiterates the idea of alienation and how how perseverance should be the priority of those who’ve been ostracized. Clementine says, “Hey dreamer, I’m sorry for interfering with your presence/ So we’ve been told, we’re currently in existence … They say I’m a boy and you’re a girl/ We laugh some, hate some and that’s about it … The barbarians are coming … Will the dreamers stay strong?