Stream Benjamin Clementine's New Album, 'I Tell A Fly'

“Behind every lion awaits a lazy dragonfly,” roars Benjamin Clementine in his fierce, androgynous, abrasively beautiful voice in one of the restless tunes on the extraordinary I Tell a Fly.

Throughout this second album – a theater piece-turned-sonic adventure — the pianist, poet and composer takes the insect as his muse, following its circular self-scatterings as it whizzes across borders and sneaks into dangerous rooms. It’s a metamorphosis that acknowledges a particular, modern heritage.

In 1915, the novelist Franz Kafka created his six-legged antihero, Gregor Samsa, as an embodiment of capitalism’s tendency to isolate and disempower its minions. Nearly 75 years later, the critic Greg Tate coined the term “flyboy in the buttermilk” to describe how the graffiti genius Jean-Michel Basquiat disrupted the tacit white supremacism of the art world.

Then there are the pop stars: U2’s Bono, ubiquitous rock star of Clementine’s British youth, becoming the character The Fly in 1991 as a way exploring the sticky mess of late-century globalization; and Miles Davis, who (as Kodwo Eshun writes) donned “bug-green fly shades” for 1975’s electric Dark Magus as a way of “adapting to the audiomenagerie by becoming insectile himself.”

Miles and Kafka, Bono and Basquiat: Benjamin Clementine recognizes the fly’s language as the common tongue of art made in a world where people’s skeletons have become too soft to absorb society’s blows.

The title I Tell a Fly is the first example of the album’s sneaky wordplay – a play on “I tell a lie,” just as “a lie” contains the first three letters of Clementine’s keyword: alien.

After seeing the phrase “an alien with extraordinary abilities ” written on his visa to America, Clementine began considering what that designation means across lines of class, race or nation, and even over the course of a lifetime.

I Tell a Fly loosely follows a pair of winged creatures as they flit through various border scenes. They visit the notorious refugee camps outside Calais in “God Save the Jungle,” encounter a French fascist in “Paris Cor Blimey,” and make fun of a privileged “American chap” in “Ode From Joyce,” which interpolates Joyce Kilmer’s famous corny poem “Trees.” Like some dirty Dr. Seussian Lorax, Clementine speaks for the flies, who with their compound eyes can see the connections between intimate cruelties and the evils of empire.

The album’s mazelike centerpiece, “Phantom of Aleppoville,” moves on the current of Clementine’s piano through his memories of childhood bullying and into the bomb-strewn battlefields of the Middle East. “Awkward Fish” matches harpsichord sounds to a grimy drumbeat to make fabulist the story of an immigrant boy in South London.

“By the Ports of Europe” imagines the influx of immigrants into Western Europe as a version of the Biblical tale of Noah. Mashing up myth and memory, Clementine ponders the effects of imposed borders: around countries, between children who begin as equals but are divided through prejudice, and in his own psyche.

“They say you must become an animal for the animal to protect us, the good animal and so we go to war,” he sings in the somber “Quintessence.” Clementine is, as others have written, a musical George Orwell for our time.

Clementine’s sometimes unhinged-seeming musicality is as dazzling as is his poetic vision. His lyrical wordplay extends into vocal and instrumental polyphony, accomplishing his goal of generating multiple viewpoints with in each song.

The song suites on I Tell a Fly, produced and largely performed by the artist, incorporate a huge variety of sounds, from Clementine’s neo-classical piano runs to Radiohead-style math rock, from multi-tracked choirs of Clementine’s own voice to buried atonal babble, from the Blur-like, accessible “Jupiter” to the Soweto beat-grounded progressive rock of “Ave Dreamers.”

It takes time to absorb the shifting soundscapes of I Tell a Fly – like the fugitive realities so many 21st-century people inhabit, it’s as difficult as it can be beautiful.

But Clementine’s exuberantly subversive spirit makes the journey worthwhile, and ultimately hopeful. “Barbarians are coming!” he wails at the end of this remarkable journey. “Dreamers stay strong!”

It’s a warning and an exhortation: Follow the path of the creature you want to swat, and you may find your way. [Read More]

Nobody escapes the way machines scramble identity at the push of a button, turns the soul into sound-fx with the greatest of ease. Instead of retreating from machinic mutation back into an ethics of sound, UR is mutation-positive. The sampler is a mandate to recombinate - so it’s useless lamenting appropriation. Resisting replication is like doing without oxygen. The sampler doesn’t care who you are.
—  Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (1998)

anonymous asked:

What do you think about altwoke?

i agree generally with much of their assessment of the problems with leftism/progressivism as it exists, but i’m skeptical of their proposed solutions, which seem to be more style than substance, more sizzle than steak.

take this excerpt:


1. Theoria

AltWoke is a new awakening for the post-modern Left to navigate the protean digital era. Altwoke can be categorized as the new New Left. Or Second Wave Neo-Marxism. The Post- Truth Left. 

hollow buzzwords chosen mostly for aesthetic purposes, communicating little to nothing.

Anti-liberal postcapitalist left. AltWoke is antithetical to Silicon Valley techno-neoliberalism. AltWoke is not the cult of Kurzweil.

i mean generally yes, leftism should not be neoliberal right-libertarian.

AltWoke is not merely analogous to the Alt-Right.

maybe you should have used a different name then

AltWoke injects planning back into left-wing politics.

 did planning ever go away?

AltWoke supports universal basic income, biotechnology and radical energy reforms to combat climate change, open borders, new forms of urban planning and the liquidation of Western hegemony.

good, finally some policy proposals! but most of this is already standard boilerplate left-wing stuff, with the possible exception of “biotechnology”, which isn’t necessarily standard across the left overall, but is standard among left-transhumanists.

AltWoke sees opportunity in disaster. AltWoke is the Left taking futurism away from fascism. David Harvey is #altwoke. Situationist International is #altwoke. Lil B is #altwoke. Jean Baudrillard is #altwoke. Kodwo Eshun is #altwoke, Mark Fisher is #altwoke, Roberto Mangabeira Unger is #altwoke. Edward Snowden is #altwoke. Daniel Keller is #altwoke. Chelsea Manning is #altwoke. Theo Parrish is #altwoke. William Gibson is #altwoke. Holly Herndon is #altwoke. Frantz Fanon is #altwoke. Alvin Toffler is #altwoke.

see now this is just an attempt to name-drop to increase one’s own clout without actually having a meaningful connection to the people named. and some weird choices are made along the way too- Edward Snowden? Lil B?

it’s take on accelerationism rubs me the wrong way too. “Left Accelerationism insists the only way out of capitalism is through it”? nah. i’m not feeling it.

also it’s rejection of morality is kinda dorky. “AltWoke is duplicitous, amoral, & problematic.” oooo. edgy. what great PR.

look, like, i appreciate the aesthetic they were trying to capture here, i also enjoy cyberpunk and leftist takes on transhumanism. but they need to put more effort into the substance underneath. politics and art overlap, but politics isn’t just art, there needs to be actual policy under all the aesthetics.

also please for the love of god, literally any name other than #AltWoke. it’s like nails on a chalkboard, the political equivalent of doing fidget spinner tricks while riding one of those hoverboards with a dubstep remix of the family guy theme playing in the background.