[6 January 2014]
Mutual Benefit is Jordan Lee, whom has been living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, bouncing from Austin to Boston to St. Louis, touring consistently and working for his sister during his down time. Lee has released several singles and EPs on cassette as Mutual Benefit before arriving with Love’s Crushing Diamond, his most accomplished work yet and clearly a singular achievement. The album is the sonic equivalent of being at peace, the type of deep contentment one experiences at the beginning of spring after a long winter, when the world comes back to life and people’s spirits are as much in bloom as the flowers that surround them. In other words, the album is full of gorgeous moments.
According to interviews with both Stereogum and Pitchfork, Lee says that the writing of the album was very therapeutic, put together during a period when people close to him were going through dark points in their personal lives. Love’s Crushing Diamond has a deep meditative quality to it. The album is the work of a person with some real perspective on life, the sort that comes from not allowing yourself to stay in one place for too long and, in doing so, not falling in to any sort of routine. In such situations, you consistently have the ability to view the lives of those around you from the outside. This is slow paced folk music with soft-spoken vocals, female harmonies, and an all-encompassing atmosphere. Each song is layered in violins and synthesizers, miniature symphonic drones that slowly rise up at the beginning of each song, only poking through for a discernible melodic line once in a while. The first song “Strong River” gently slips into focus, a soft breeze that gains strength as more instruments fade in until the vocals arrive for a brief moment of reflection. The instrumentation calls to mind Deserter Songs-era Mercury Rev or the wide-eyed wonder of Youth Lagoon’s Wondrous Bughouse. “Advanced Falconry” with its prominent violins, plucking banjo, and liquid instrumentation is reminiscent of You Forgot It In People-era Broken Social Scene.
The lyrics convey a wisdom beyond Lee’s years with lines like “My mind is muddled / Our hearts are heavy / Our bodies seem so temporary” in “Let’s Play/Statue of a Man”. In many ways, it can feel like the words and music a monk might make after years of hard won spiritual searching and awakening. However, even when the message is at its heaviest, Lee will include sound bites of laughter and talking, revealing a lightheartedness at the center of his music. The album is full of the awe of being alive. This is unmistakably music written by one person. The instrumentation is too free flowing and fluid to have been written by a band or group of people together. In that sense, it truly recalls Van Morrison’s 1968 masterpiece Astral Weeks. As various instruments slip in and out of focus, everything adds support and weight to Lee’s voice and acoustic guitar or banjo. Like Astral Weeks, the songs can be seen as poetry in musical form.
Love’s Crushing Diamond isn’t very different from song to song but at only seven tracks, this works to the album’s advantage. It is a complete statement and as such should be listened to as a whole, taken in from front to back. The songs don’t immediately grab you but instead slowly come over you and wrap you in their warmth. The listener must patiently wait as the songs gently unfold. Before you realize what’s happening, you become completely immersed in it. Each song seems delicate at first glance but the layers of instrumentation provide an entire world to get lost in. The album is so astoundingly excellent and steeped in maturity that it is hard to believe that this is only Lee’s debut full length as Mutual Benefit. Love’s Crushing Diamond arrives fully formed, a complete sonic work that tenderly guides you along and clothes you in its layered beauty.