Benjamin Clementine: “Cornerstone” EP

A physical response to music, less the raising of arm hair and more the restraining of tears, at least for me, doesn’t come along all that often. The last time this happened to me was on Later Live…With Jools Holland back in April, when the wonderful artist Laura Mvula sang “Sing to the Moon” from her debut album by the same name, a record I immediately purchased and still adore just as much today. You can watch the video of her performance on Jools here.

Then, last Friday, whilst vaguely watching last week’s repeat of Jools, it happened again. I heard a gravelly, raw male voice against complementary piano music that he was also playing, barefoot, mark you, singing thoughtful and often witty lyrics: this was “Nemesis”. Then the song ended, the artist’s name revealed as Benjamin Clementine, and I thought, huh, cool. Jools moved on to the next act, and I went back to whatever I was doing on my laptop.

A little later on in the show, I heard the same voice and piano, and I almost instantly looked up. This is the title song of Clementine’s debut EP, “Cornerstone”, and it is incredible. There is such skill to the contrast between the steady rhythm of the piano and gentle voice at the beginning of the track, turning suddenly into something altogether different and  dramatic. The jarred piano chords alongside breathy and urgent vocals at the height of the song’s choruses reduced me very nearly to tears, and the painful emotion on Clementine’s face as well as in his voice feels so real and is terribly effective. My throat was as lumpy as a frog’s they look like they have lumpy throats anyway. You can watch this near-tear-inducing performance here.

Immediately after the end of the song, and I physically could not compel myself to do so whilst the song was going on because watching Clementine is as gripping as listening to him, I scribbled down the artist’s name to look up and to the next day. That, my friends, is what I like to call the hold-your-horses effect.

Clementine’s EP is excellent, but “Cornerstone” is undoubtedly my favourite of the three. The songs are all quite different, but feature many of the same skilful elements. “I Won’t Complain” is similar to “Cornerstone” in the sense that the mellow verses rise quickly to intense, and almost shouty, climactic heights of both song, yet the effect of each remains quite different. Whether Clementine is virtually shouting, or almost whispering in the quietest moments of his music, and even when he makes a ‘drrrrr’ noise at one point in “I Won’t Complain”, his is one of the most genuinely soulful voices I’ve heard in a long time. And I just love the piano in his music.

Clementine’s home city, “London” is the subject and name of the final track, and it is far more pared-back and level in tone than the other two. The raw grit of his voice displayed in the other songs gives way to the more velvety aspect of this impressive artist. The most conventional song on the EP, if it can be called so, the lyrical skill of Clementine is the gripping aspect of this song rather than the sheer drama of the others.

The EP is available on iTunes, as well as both Deezer and Spotify, and I’d seriously suggest you check it out.

Clementine’s voice doesn’t match his face somehow; the former so full of experience and the latter so youthful and clear with INCREDIBLE cheekbones. His voice seems certainly too mature for his age, a mere 24, and this may be something to do with the fact that Clementine reportedly spent two years sleeping rough in Paris and busking in the Place de Clichy metro station. As I mentioned, watching him is as engaging as listening to him, and music is so much more affecting when the artist has a story, but not an overly-milked X Factor-esque my grandparents died when I was thirty story, a real story.

Repeatedly whispering the word ‘home’ almost inaudibly at the end of his performance of “Cornerstone” or playing piano whilst barefoot may seem a bit gimmicky or hammed-up to some, but there is an authenticity to Clementine’s emotion that is undoubtedly lent to him by his experience and his journey into the music industry. Discovered by “musical bigwigs” in the Parisian metro station, Jools revealed as he sauntered over to the Paris-based artist to introduce his first song, Clementine is definitely one I will be looking forward to more from. There is an album due from him in 2014, which I will be pre-ordering the hell out of as soon as possible.

So ends my first attempt at a music review. Which artists have you discovered unexpectedly through WHATONEARTHISTHAT moments?

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