We use ‘dreamy’ so much as an adjective that we forget how genuinely dreamy things can actually be. With a bunch of charming Bandcamp releases already up his sleeve, singer-songwriter Jordan Lee was more than ready to release his first ‘proper’ album as Mutual Benefit, a project started back in 2009 with a multitude of collaborators. Love’s Crushing Diamond is Mutual Benefit at its best, a blend of rarefied folk and experimental pop consecrated to warmth, cosiness and optimistic feelings.
Usually preceded by levitating, half-improvised percussion, Lee’s melodies are smooth and evocative, whether punctuated by a distant piano or carried away by sweet choirs. These seven songs find their strength in quietness and refinement, they gently weave together, avoiding abrupt twists as in the presence of a half-sleep, vulnerable listener.
Opener ‘Strong River’ builds gradually like an awakening, setting the mood for the stunning ‘Golden Wake’, where Lee’s “quiet thoughts get louder” and speak of rebellion in the most delicate and mitigating way. When the verses “sometimes my heart and brain conspire / to set everything on fire” are accompanied by the sublime sound of a violin, the result is blissful and captivating, as if a series of contrasting feelings found resolution in the lushness of the sound. Strings return to adorn the love ballad ‘Advanced Falconry’, a pop song for galloping banjo and acoustic guitar, without doubt one of the peaks on the album. As Lee describes his beautiful and graceful beloved, it is not hard to imagine romantic escapes in surreal, cotton-cloud, Gondry-inspired dream sequences.
Lee’s vocals, often aided by the vocals of friends Virginia de la Pozas, Julie Byrne and Cory Siegler, are poised and sweet as one expects, in line with the refined atmosphere of the album. There’s no struggle to sound keening, no affectation whatsoever. On occasion feelings become a bit more melancholic: ‘That Light that’s Blinding’, which perhaps more than the other cuts on the album maintains an impromptu-live-session vibe to it, is haunted by a wandering piano and the scaring thought of going “a year without dreaming / until it seems that there’s nothing new”; the violin led ‘C. L. Rosarian’ (C. L. standing for ‘Careless Love’), deals with the impermanence of love, merging a sense of baffling disappointment and inevitable surrender (“I didn’t fall in love with you / but it seems that there is nothing I can do”).
Love’s Crushing Diamond is not ‘dreamy’ for the sake of it. It is refreshing music, which sneaks quietly into your head and demands to be played on and on. If being ‘freak’ and ‘folk’ was not long ago part of the hip agenda, Mutual Benefit’s quirkiest ‘folk substance’ is the way it manages to be absolutely stunning without any particular stress on theatricality. It is surreal and captivating as a lucid dream – you really feel motivated to stay tuned to find out what Lee’s nurturing with so much care.
Published on Drowned in Sound