Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond

mutualRating: ★★★★½

This is one of the most exciting debuts I’ve heard all year.  Well, it’s not exactly a debut.  Mutual Benefit, a fluid band centered around songwriter Jordan Lee, has independently released several EPs, but Love’s Crushing Diamond is their longest and best effort to date.

I find this music very hard to describe or classify – in a good way.  The tunes here could almost pass as folk, but folk music is not this experimental or this expansive.  I can’t really call it pop; pop isn’t this introspective and delicate.  The immediate thing, the crucial thing to note is the incredible warmth of this album.  A soft analog hum pervades the piece, and there is not a harsh sound or a strained note to be found on the record excepting a few intentionally scratchy violins.

Love’s Crushing Diamond somehow feels like a cohesive unit despite being made up of endless combinations of seemingly incongruent instruments.  Banjos, cymbals, synths, organs, distorted guitars, strings, hand claps, and various chimes somehow manage to coexist and complement each other.  The result is a very modern sounding record, despite its analog veneer.

Vocally, Lee is at once vulnerable and precise, and sounds somewhat like Sufjan Stevens or Elliott Smith.  There’s certainly an Elliott Smith influence in the way Lee builds his own harmonies and double-tracks his voice.  His recordings, however, are more comparable to projects like Microphones or even Radical Face.

For me, there is not a single song worth skipping on this record.  My favorite though is probably “Advanced Falconry”; a song built on a great looping riff and lifted by beautiful strings.  Lee’s falsetto on this track is something special.  Like “Let’ Play / Statue of a Man”, “Advanced Falconry” has a great sense of movement and energy with very minimal percussion.

Both musically and lyrically, this is an uplifting record.  Most of the songs are celebratory, at least in some way.  Lee’s declaration that, “There’s always love whether tattered, strained, or torn,” in “Let’s Play / Statue of a Man” feels like a fairly good starting point for understanding this album.  As a lyricist, Lee is very concise and understated in a refreshing way.

Very few bands mix genres this effectively and naturally, and very few albums are recorded and mixed this well.  I haven’t heard many new voices as sincere and moving as Jordan Lee’s.  I hereby nominate Love’s Crushing Diamond for “best use of wind chimes in a genre-defying masterpiece”.

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