Benjamin Clementine – “Phantom Of Aleppoville”
Benjamin Clementine might be one of the most underappreciated artists of the decade. Rising from a homeless musician in Paris to the winner of 2015’s Mercury Prize, Clementine recorded I Tell a Fly while traveling the world – from New York to London to Syria – and chronicling what he witnessed, be it sickening wealth, war-torn nations, or alarming poverty. He’s as authentic as they come, and the combination of his own rough upbringing, along with his boots-on-the-ground mentality to seeing and incorporating world issues into his music, has afforded him a wealth of material worth playing about — and more importantly, worth hearing.
While I’d advise anyone to listen to both of Benjamin Clementine’s albums in full, the absolute pinnacle of his young career has to be ‘Phantom of Aleppoville.’ It ebbs and flows with a blend of grace and oddness that simply can’t be manufactured – and comes along ever so rarely. Spanning six and a half minutes, the song gradually builds up from intricate, trickling piano notes to more graceful and elegant ones. By the time the song is one minute in, the two styles intertwine and dance together playfully, and it sounds like we’re immersed in some eighteenth century classical masterpiece. Clementine’s avant-garde inclinations are on full display when ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ changes course into militaristic drumming and unintelligible, tribal-sounding chants. The most stunning juncture comes a little more than halfway through, when the song falls into a lush, vocal-centric moment where Benjamin forgives “Billy the Bully” (it’s not clear precisely who this is, although it can be inferred that this is someone who bullied him during his own childhood…although he’s also rumored to be a metaphor for America/the UN, and how they treat less fortunate nations). Through all of its topsy-turvy progressions, it still remains one of the most accessible tracks on I Tell a Fly, which says something about just how unconventional the record is as a whole.
Never before have I been more convinced of someone’s genius and downright insanity at the same time. They say there’s a fine line, and I don’t think there’s a modern artist who exhibits that better than Benjamin. His approach to recording music and writing lyrics is downright genius, while his musical inclinations are wildly eccentric. ‘Phantom of Aleppoville’ embodies his signature sound to date, and it’s one that will most likely never receive the widespread exposure that it deserves.