Acclaimed British singer-songwriter Benjamin Clementine released his new album, I Tell a Fly, October 2, 2017 via Capitol Records. Written, recorded and produced by Clementine, I Tell a Fly finds him exploring new musical territory on the heels of his Mercury Prize-winning debut, At Least for Now (2015). At Least for Now stretched itself across a series of piano ballads with unorthodox structures; I Tell a Fly brings a sense of theatricality and power by using whirling, interwoven instruments throughout the uncompromising release. While At Least for Now looked inward and backward, Clementine’s follow-up looks outward and forward—to a changing world, ancient struggles and the individual response.
The origin of I Tell a Fly lies in a disarmingly strange line Clementine found in his American visa: “an alien of extraordinary abilities.” He explains, “I was baffled for about ten minutes when I first saw that visa. But then I thought to myself, I am an alien. I’m a wanderer. In most places I’ve been, I’ve always been different. And so I began to think about the story of a couple of birds, who are in love: one is afraid to go further, and the other is taking a risk, to see what happens.” On I Tell a Fly, Clementine uses his personal history as a prism through which to view the world around him (and attempt to make sense of both), musically exploring unknown territories while maintaining a lifeblood that could not be mistaken for the work of anyone other than him.
Clementine debuted a video for the new album’s first single, “Phantom of Aleppoville,” from photographer Craig McDean and filmmaker Masha Vasyukova. Clementine wrote “Phantom of Aleppoville” after reading and being deeply affected by the work of pioneering British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. Winnicott wrote extensively about children who have experienced bullying at home and at school, and found that while their trauma was not comparable in scale to the suffering of children displaced by war, its effects followed similar patterns. Seeing in Winnicott’s writing a mirror of his own childhood experience, Clementine imagined a place, the “little city of Aleppo,” where children encounter such bullying.
Clementine’s 2015 debut, At Least for Now, garnered immense international acclaim and awards including the Mercury Prize, British music’s most internationally prestigious accolade, and the Best New Act honor at Les Victoires de la Musique, the equivalent of the GRAMMYs. In the U.S., he performed on both on The Late Late Show with James Corden and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. The New York Times’ T Magazine featured him on the cover, and David Byrne, both a hero and an admirer of Clementine, wrote the profile, accompanying him back to the tough Edmonton section of London where Clementine grew up. The New York Times called At Least for Now Clementine’s “declaration of selfhood,” and has described Clementine’s voice as a “frequently stunning instrument, a bladelike tenor that can swoop into either a clarion cry or a guttural scowl.”