At Least for Now is the début album of 2015 Mercury Award winner Benjamin Clementine. Clementine is a North London-raised singer, pianist, and poet. His atypical, non-traditional form makes it particularly difficult to define his music, which makes it all the more alluring.
Winston Churchill’s Boy
The album begins with this elegant track. The piano instrumentation sets the scene of a winter-night waltz during a 1950s New York ballroom. Clementine half-sings, half-recites (almost rapping in places) – which at moments sounds not a whole lot dissimilar to something Willis Earl Beal might put out. It’s the ‘Winston boy oh…’ that does it. Clementine then goes on to a slow crescendo which mellows back out to piano. It’s both powerful and smooth.
Then I Heard A Bachelor’s Cry
Continuing the elegance, the structural composition here is similar to the opener. There’s much more melancholy here however, almost as if Clementine were lamenting a deep loss. “Though I know god created me beautifully but don’t you know beauty will forever kill” demonstrates Clementine’s lyrical proficiency and his heart-felt singing. Clementine somehow captures the emotion of a descent into despair in a way that is anything but melodramatic.
‘London’ is immediately more upbeat, but still smooth and thematically fitting. You might have expected it from an early-2000s RnB artist. It does seem to end abruptly, feeling much shorter than other tracks, and the riff does seem to loop for too long at times. This may however be an effect of the instruments being mixed in a way that sometimes drowns out the piano for the sake of a big sound. A perfect head-bop.
‘Adios’ is jazzy and energetic. The piano is surprisingly syncopated, sharp, and fast together with Clementine channelling Nina Simone by alternating between legato and staccato vocals. Midway, Clementine talks about how he hears angels singing. It all seems rather over the top, that is, until he starts to sing their melodies. Clementine undoubtedly knows how to construct and perform a spectacle of a song. Stunning.
Jazz in the verses and booming in chorus, a synthesis of the two styles Clementine has already displayed. It has a driving bassline, an incredibly strong vocal performance, and you can’t help but be reminded of the sheer force of James Brown.
The People and I
This track is essentially a slow emotional ballad. Towards the end of the song, after another exquisite string-vocal harmony, it breaks into a short-lived (almost) anthemic phrase. Like ‘London’, the tracks ends feeling strangely short for its five-minute runtime. In this way, the track doesn’t feel fully realised, and is probably one of the weaker tracks on the album.
Condolence is another more RnB feeling song, feeling pleasantly less cluttered. The drum machine loop, and simple piano arpeggio really help to regulate Clementine’s vocals in a sophisticated manner. There’s those ghostly choral harmonies too. However, the mixing of the drums at the end of the track somewhat lets Clementine down, as his otherwise immaculate vocal performance becomes drowned out by their volume.
The sheer emotion of this song… Just watch Clementine’s performance on Later… with Jools Holland. Seriously.
Quiver a Little
‘Quiver a Little’ is probably the moodiest, and strangest track on the album. You have gothic bells, whispered vocals, Clementine wailing and maniacally laughing, as well as echo on everything. Too much echo really, and poor mixing detracts from the appeal again.
‘Gone’ is a fitting elegiac closer to the album. It is a humble vocal-plus-piano accompaniment piece that proves that Clementine comes through far more beautiful, far more emotive when he keeps things simple. The album ends reminding you of Clementine’s musical strengths, wherein you cannot help but be in awe of Clementine.
In sum, At Least for Now is a sonic treat. It’s wonderful to just sit and listen through on a cold evening. It’s moody, and yet somehow warm and human. Clementine has put together an album which is cohesive, creative, and dramatic. At times it can seem a bit one-note with the similar instrumentation and lack of variety in the production, but the quality and artistry is undoubtedly there. At Least for Now is an album that demands your attention, just to let you get utterly lost in its melodies and splendour.