His third full-length set of bucolic fairydom, Thunder Follows the Light confirms Jordan Lee's status as a leading architect of musical escapism via his collaborative project Mutual Benefit. Cover art depicting light flares goes a long way in communicating the disarming, hypnotic nature of textures that combine instruments such as synthesizers, banjo, bass clarinet, and field recordings, just for starters. Inspired by literal storms and figurative ones -- namely, the effects of corporate greed and the 2016 presidential election -- there is an acknowledgment of harm within the album's beauty. Lyrics foretell trouble right from the opening track with phrases like "The winds have been rising/Torrid and frightening" and "There's a changing horizon/That is written in lightning." Acoustic guitar, banjo, and strings eventually gather strength with percussion, vocal harmonies, blended electronics, and lusher arrangements. Like most of the album, its woven timbres and rhythms are constructed in a way that would be dazzling if not so subdued. Later, "Storm Cellar Heart" relies more on piano and saxophone, and "Waves, Breaking" incorporates shakers, tape scratches, and feedback, or facsimiles thereof. Under the guidance of Lee's gentle melodies and calming voice, all the songs mesh together, though, only slightly shifting, like an afternoon under a late-summer sun. This type of imagery is suggested in song titles and lyrics, too, which include references to waking cicadas, toadstools, mountaintops, and "Blossoms growing on a dogwood tree" ("Shedding Skin"). The closer, "Thunder Follows," while cautionary, sees signs of strength and renewal in the wake of a storm. The album's dozen or so guests include several prior collaborators such as violinist Jake Falby and guitarist Mike Clifford as well as newcomers like saxophonist Gabriel Birnbaum (Wilder Maker) and drummer Felix Walworth (Told Slant). It's probably best not to deconstruct the recording too much, though, or risk interrupting the reverie.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson