Photo by Whitney Lee
Since entering his twenties, Jordan Lee has been a journeyman, moving from Ohio to Austin to Boston to St. Louis to Brooklyn. All the traveling figures heavily into the music he makes under the name Mutual Benefit. Songs don’t follow a particular verse-chorus-verse structure; they ramble and roam, lighting on a particular sound before melting away. The Mutual Benefit lineup is just as amorphous. Lee invites whoever is around him at the time to jam or tour. Like his music, he generally just makes it up as he goes along.
With such an unfocused ethos, it could be hard to make any sort of impact, but Mutual Benefit has been one of the year’s surprising (and still growing) success stories. After years of tinkering, Lee finally put the finishing touches on Love’s Crushing Diamond, his debut full-length after a half-dozen EPs and one-off singles. Like the rest of his discography, he planned to release the album himself before friends at the small label Soft Eyes offered to give it a promotional push. But word soon spread about the record, and Soft Eyes found itself swamped with more demand than supply. Other Music stepped in and is now giving Love’s Crushing Diamond a proper release on December 3.
Buzz can often drown out the actual music, but Mutual Benefit has created a sonic tapestry that inhabits its own world, hype or no hype. Built from field recordings, loops, and Lee’s soft voice, Diamond is a kaleidoscopic thing of beauty, yet Lee wrote most of it while surrounded by anything but beauty. Close friends of his struggled through life while Lee bounced from town to town, unsure of where to land. Diamond became a therapeutic experience, and it shows. “Let’s Play/Statue Of A Man” is a patient sigh of a song, blending folk with all manner of sonic snippets. “There’s always love/when you think there’s none to give,” he sings, sounding completely at ease despite the chaos unfolding all around.