Not to talk shop, but a person that reviews records for any decent stretch of time manages to be emailed a shitload of music. Listening to it all isn’t even a chore; it’s an impossibility. Still, you can imagine the curiosity that lingers from every fledgling songwriter that reads a Ryan Adams review and thinks “this guy likes him, he’ll probably like me, too.” Sometimes, the records even come to your home. Sometimes the musician or their representative seeks you out on Facebook or Twitter. Sometime it’s your high school friend. Sometimes it’s your dad asking if you’ve ever heard of an impulse buy from the dollar bin at the market.
The curiosity, hopefully, doesn’t fade, and Mutual Benefit’s Love’s Crushing Diamond is the reason why. There are bands or projects out there that you haven’t heard of that could blow you away. There are songwriters that could impact who you are as a person, if you’d just give them the chance. Music can be a powerful, transformative experience, and that’s why we give a new band a chance or go see a pop star in an arena. All that said, digging through past email, there were attempts by three different representatives from three different companies to try to get Mutual Benefit’s album noticed, and still most writers, this one included, only know the name because Pitchfork gave it a Best New Music designation. So yeah, while all this music is at our fingertips, we still need help as much as ever to find the music we love.
Love’s Crushing Diamond was recorded by Jordan Lee during a stretch of time that saw numerous location changes and a revolving door of collaborators. But even not reading that from a bio, the music, the lyrics and the atmosphere place the listener on those travels. “Let’s Play”/ “Statue of a Man” puts us on a train, saying goodbye, emotions complicated but not concealed or even obscured. As he sings, he “wishes for eloquence when it’s love that’s all [he] got.” What the listener hears isn’t necessarily Lee’s travels, but their own. With a voice that warbles with unrefined sincerity, reminiscent of both Devendra Banhart and, in falsetto, The Antlers’ Peter Silberman, Lee embraces these passe notions of nostalgia and dreaminess as if they were his and his alone, but delivered for all to share. There is a bravery in presenting an album with the baroque instrumentation that was becoming commonplace in the last decade like it wasn’t terribly out of style, and maybe it’s not. Maybe songwriters of this cloth have just been in a rut because the melodies. And the overarching sentiment dripping from this collection sounds vital.
Lyrically, it could be argued that the collection borderlines on too personal, songs like “Strong Swimmer” oscillating between the hyper-specific and the proverbial, but the lasting effect still moves, requiring the listener to look inward to connect. “That Light Is Blinding” asks us to imagine “a year without dreaming” not for the effect it might have on us, but on those we care about, and the distant vocals and ghostly orchestration seem to be disappearing around the bend, the words become less and less significant, because we are in our own worlds and not any less part of a greater connection.
Love’s Crushing Diamond never is over-intellectualized, but it lets emotion guide the trajectory, and taking something away from the album is dependent on the listener’s willingness to feel. For those of us always searching for something new, for something else, particularly in music, this is the type of album that we are looking for. The diamond in the rough, of sorts, as obvious as that seems. Strangely, it comes across as antiquated because it is beautiful and lacks self-awareness. But the statement made by Mutual Benefit isn’t that the sound presented needs a resurgence; it’s that no way of self-expression should need one if it comes from an honest place and says something that needs saying.