Album Reviews

Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond

on December 03, 2013, 12:01am
Mutual Benefit A-
Release Date
October 25, 2013
Label
Formats

Love may be patient and kind, but it also demands much of the people it possesses. The abstraction is a fixture of pop songs old and new, but love is typically lauded or loathed in lyrics. It’s a thing of extremes, and rarely is the middle ground explored.

Brooklyn (by way of Ohio, Boston, and Austin) multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lee expands on the fears, joys, and weight of love on the debut LP under his moniker Mutual BenefitLove’s Crushing Diamond. The tragedies and the triumphs are present, but the focus is on the intricacies that make us fall for those people: the sleights of hips, the turns of phrase. In other words, the subtleties reign.

This fastidious attention to detail is fitting for a man who has traversed the country with no clear intentions and no accurate footing, setting up camp and dwelling wherever feels appropriate that day. On a surface level, Love’s Crushing Diamond quietly documents the tales of a nomad, bent postcards and faded ticket stubs enmeshed in the folds of these stories.

Lee’s approach to making the music isn’t all that dissimilar. The Kassette Klub label owner dabbles in others’ musical projects, and his own Mutual Benefit is “a one-man band or a sprawling collective, [that] depends on where he is and who is around that day.” While the narrative is singular in scope, the Mutual Benefit project is a sum of all its beautiful, messy, imperfect perfections: the shifts from low to high fidelity production peppered throughout Love’s Crushing Diamond, the thickly textured strings weaving in and out of tinny piano and velvety acoustic thumps, Lee’s vocals a dim guiding light navigating the sea of sounds.

Love’s Crushing Diamond is steeped in the traditions of loveable indie pop worn at the seams. The record begins reminiscent of the bleak strings of Arcade Fire’s plucky debut Funeral and Horn of Plenty-era Grizzly Bear, with its slightly out-of-tune piano and caustic echoes at the forefront. Yet, rarely does a pop record traverse territories both alien and familiar. While we can all relate to the soul-crushing heartbreak and elation that love can produce, the intricate songs of Love’s Crushing Diamond present new complexities.

The record begins with the twinkle of wind chimes and a singing saw on the gorgeous “Strong River”, as Lee states, “I clear my mind of joy and sorrow.” Blankness isn’t a concept usually present when speaking about love, and when it is it’s presented in the context of blindness. Here, Lee presents blankness in a way that can also be enlightening, especially on the violin-surged, meditative “That Light That’s Blinding”, all lapping echoes and choral loops.

The nucleus of the record is single “Advanced Falconry”, violin strings waxing and waning on Lee’s poetic verses about the one he loves: “The way she moves, always on her own/ And to look into her eyes/ Will make a fool of anyone.” Rendering himself incapable of intelligence, Lee’s vulnerability is touching, heartbreaking, and most of all, relatable. By looping in his own insecurities, we all become subjects of the record. Lee establishes Love’s Crushing Diamond as an ever-evolving text, becoming more than something about himself or his travels, something more than you, or me, or anyone.

Perhaps the only fault of Love’s Crushing Diamond is its length, clocking in at slightly above 30 minutes. The succinctness of the record creeps up on you, making it dissolve through your fingers in an unexpected way. But, maybe that’s part of the appeal, the desire for more that it leaves behind, a heightened hunger for baroque-tinged indie pop. Despite the disappointing brevity, the songs are fully formed and finely detailed, each taking on a life of its own. Much like a great book keeps a reader riveted until the last pages are turned, Love’s Crushing Diamond leaves a hope that it could continue on and on.

A certain strength bookends both sides of this record, beginning with the touching “Strong River” and ending with the jangly, assured “Strong Swimmer”. Both numbers complement the overarching theme of the record – love as a strange, all-encompassing, beautiful, twisted, almost indefinable thing that makes you a better person as a consequence. Fittingly, the textures of this record are so pronounced, the colors running in waves so profound that it’s almost impossible to believe that one man created them (and on his debut record, to boot). Perhaps that’s a true testament to the potency of love and its effect on humanity.

Essential Tracks: “Advanced Falconry”, “Strong Swimmer”, and “That Light That’s Blinding”

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