Mutual Benefit: Skip a Sinking Stone

This record made me buy better headphones so I could do it justice writing about it. This record made me a better person.
Mutual Benefit
Skip a Sinking Stone
Mom + Pop

Skip a Sinking Stone is a feast for the ears. The textural richness, the nuance and subtlety of the instruments used, the arrangement and production… After one listen I was glutted on it but kept going back for more. It’s the sort of album that makes you want to buy better headphones to make sure you’re not missing anything when you listen to it.

The follow up to Love’s Crushing Diamond, Skip a Sinking Stone is every component of that record taken to its next level. The lovely melodies and comfortable guitar accompaniment underpinning soaring string arrangements and studio magic are there, but more emphatic and stretched across the entire album without pause. Love’s Crushing Diamond was charming in its candidness and while there’s still an element of spontaneity and playfulness on Skip a Sinking Stone, it’s more concise about what it’s setting out to do. It’s by no means a first album as it builds on what has come before it.

Recorded partially at Silent Barn, a cooperative hub for artists in Brooklyn, and partially more formally in a studio, Skip a Sinking Stone is threaded with homegrown sounds. There’s a piano that comes in occasionally — on “Skipping Stones” and the closing track, “The Hereafter”, as well as interspersed sparely throughout the album — that is willfully out of tune. The strings of each note beat against each other, unstable. It sounds like the sort of piano you’d find in a sun-dappled clearing deep in a forest. It’s a risk that pays off, and used sparingly it lends every moment it touches that hint of verdant magic.

The record abounds with inventive melody and arrangements that ache. It sounds fresh, it really is a delight. Jordan Lee, the helmsman of the machines and musicians that variously make up Mutual Benefit, says he wrote the album to describe the dreaming world, with the first half concerning daydreams and the second half dealing with nightmares. That’s a little melodramatic at best, and it doesn’t come through clearly without knowing what you’re listening for. It doesn’t detract from the record, in my estimation, but it’s notable. Lee talks about the two sides as “opposites”, but the juxtaposition is subtle, lost on a casual listener.

But it certainly smacks of dreaming, all throughout. The same way Radical Face’s Ghost created form around the life of a house, or Kate Bush’s masterful “A Sky of Honey” made a tangible thing out of a summer day, Skip a Sinking Stone builds and shapes a drowsy dreamworld with particular deftness. The lead single, “Lost Dreamers”, is fine, but nearly every song on the record has potential for a spot on a wistful alt/indie playlist or a community radio show curated by a bespectacled Pitchfork reader. “Getting Gone” has a bit more going on, melodically speaking, for crossover potential as a single, but “Lost Dreamers” is certainly the album condensed in a statement.

Albums like this don’t come around so often. It is an album-lover’s album, too as each track bleeds into the next, the transitions ooze, indistinct and lovely, making it hard to listen to one song without listening to every song. In a musical landscape powered by singles and populated by an insurmountable avalanche of new material, a record like this, which pulls like taffy and takes its time, really is a treat.

RATING 8 / 10