Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

And I Have Been encompasses Benjamin Clementine’s nomadic life

"And I Have Been"

Release date: 28 October 2022
Benjamin clementine and i have been art
26 October 2022, 00:00 Written by Tanatat Khuttapan

“Happiness is misconstrued / Oh boy, I’m screwed,” he quavers at one point in the opener track. There you have it, dear friends: this is the abstract of Mercury Prize–winner Benjamin Clementine’s new album.

A catastrophe unfolded before Clementine’s eyes: a virus wiped every connection he ever had of the outside world, leaving him bereft of attachment. During the 2 years of relentless despair, special weekends became mere passersby in his life cycle. How could they mean anything if all he could do was only to cocoon himself in his lonely, isolated home? Left with nothing else but endemic inertia, ruminative questions were imposed upon his soul, unleashing a midlife crisis. Who really was he? A nomadic man who craved affection and liveliness, acceptance and tranquillity? Or was he forever tethered to the sins that had long haunted his life? These themes of belonging and love are explored on his third album, a new document of his pains and hurdles: a journey in search of inner peace.

And I Have Been isn’t a record made to impress, but to remind us of how cruel yet kind life can be. Amidst the turmoil of the pandemic, he was locked tight in a desolate place, but he had all the time to spend with his beloved, the only string that kept him alive. “I keep rolling into the path of a woman,” he solemnly howls in “Residue.” Of course, the storm still rushed over and disconcerted him. In “Delighted,” he intones the aridity of human life: “We lean, we learn, we earn, we turn, we burn.” While in the midst of cinematic orchestration, he jabs at the matter with such concise, impassioned poetry; it never fails to call to the listeners and shake them awake. In most songs, his affecting content and performance are the star of the show in lieu of his music, for it is humbled and rather tamed. It doesn’t leave much impression, but the lyrics succeed in tearing our hearts asunder nevertheless.

Unlike I Tell a Fly, wherein Clementine embraced the facets of experimentalism, his new record is austere, pithy, and almost morose. It’s replete with explosive emotions, and they froth on the veneer of each song: fervent and remarkably despondent. “Gypsy,BC” features him screaming “Gypsy’s always been you!” as if he’s quarrelling with his inward self; his breathless voice is undercut with such heaviness it pierces through our crumbling state of mentality. Midway into “Atonement,” he blindly, desperately gropes for a shade of illuminating light. Yet when he discovers it, he disappears. Towards the end a choir takes his place to chant a mantra: “We’ve gotta keep on fighting / ‘Cause that’s all we’ve got.” The song then transitions into “The Last Movement of Hope,” where he merely hums on the piano with striking poise and nonchalance, devoid of any singing. And I Have Been glides like a meticulous record full of cryptic, meaningful occurrences. Even if it’s unadorned, it still clicks.

Clementine is an accomplished musician and poet; his unbound capabilities reflect upon these luxurious-sounding songs. Lead single “Genesis” is the greatest track on the record that showcases his impeccable musicality. The rhythms are a rework of his first released song, “Nemesis,” that set about his career in music. While he struggles to accept his cultural identity, woozy instruments wreathe through his painful words. Regardless of how much he dislikes his genesis, it is entrenched in his consciousness, never to be escaped. “Lovelustreman” is another of this category; the instrumentation offers a dance anthem for doomed lovers, with a glimmer of silenced havoc hidden behind the distorted strings. Produced all by himself, his third establishment is graceful and elaborate, giving him a platform to delve into love and mayhem, hope and despair: an encompassing work.

It is truly unfortunate that this is the penultimate album of his music career; there will be only one more to add to his discography before he departs to other interests. And I Have Been, though more digestible than his previous works, fully enlivens the mundane aspects of life. Matters unexplored on other projects are excavated humbly here, and he speaks about them with sheer earnestness and honesty, a signature quality that has granted him numerous accolades. When he wishes us a good time in “Weakend,” a combination of weekend and weakened, it touches our hearts on a different level; at the scariest times, how can weekends, which should relate to relaxation, bliss, and peace, seem so ominous and turbulent that they weaken our spirits? Clementine inspects the world with a different lens that we normally use; he is a compass of diverse perspectives. And I Have Been might not arrive at his top shelf, but it is an integral art that sheds light on his once darkened and uncharted territories.

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