Mutual Benefit

Love's Crushing Diamond

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"Gentle" and "reassuring" aren't necessarily the most exciting compliments to give an album, but Mutual Benefit's Jordan Lee turns those virtues into a remarkably engaging full-length debut. Inspired by the struggles some of his friends were enduring, on Love's Crushing Diamond Lee builds on the winsome, folky indie he began crafting with a series of EPs on Bandcamp and his own Kassette Klub label. The comparisons to early-2000s indie folk luminaries like Sufjan, Animal Collective, and Antlers still stand, and the mix of rustic sounds and wide-ranging atmospheres also recalls Yellow House-era Grizzly Bear or Mercury Rev circa Deserter's Songs, particularly on tracks like "That Light That's Blinding," where dappled banjos and strings mingle with sweet vocal harmonies that rise and fall like breathing. Yet Mutual Benefit often sounds more down-to-earth than many of those acts on Love's Crushing Diamond. Lee harnesses the found sounds that peppered his earlier work into subtle embellishments that give these songs a greater depth, as on "Strong River," which opens the album with wind chimes and strings that tremble with anticipation, or a sense of whimsy, as on the vignette "Let's Play." The waver in Lee's voice when he sings "We weren't meant to be this way/We weren't meant to be afraid" on "Advanced Falconry" never feels affected, and though he claims to be inarticulate while seeing his loved ones suffer, lyrics like "To say goodbye makes a mess of all my thoughts/Makes me wish for eloquence/When it's love that's all I've got" from "Statue of a Man" suggest otherwise. In its own poetic way, Love's Crushing Diamond is a title that captures the hope and hardship in these songs, and the album's kindness and calmness make it the musical embodiment of a friend whose shoulder is ready to cry on at a moment's notice.

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