It’s been ages since I’ve posted a proper album review, and I’m so happy to start up the process again with the brand new Mutual Benefit album, whose music I fell in love with after hearing the brilliant and absolutely gorgeous debut album Love’s Crushing Diamond, released back in 2013. Jordan Lee creates the sort of soft, atmospheric, baroque folk music that deserves to be contemplated and understood, and Skip A Sinking Stone is absolutely no exception, which, ironically, makes this album review somewhat premature. However, Mutual Benefit also has the unique ability to completely encompass the listener and make them part of the delicate, placid world that Jordan Lee bends over backwards in creating, which, in turn, puts the noise and destruction of the real world on pause.
Skip A Sinking Stone is seamlessly presented in two equal parts – the first half being a sprawling orchestration of the excitement and anxiety of life on the road, and the second being the soundtrack to Lee’s life in his home of New York City, which remains incredibly intimate and melancholy in comparison. In fact, opener “Madrugada” and the seventh track “Nocturne” function as thesis statements for these contrasting themes, considering the lush, ornate instrumentation and embellishment of the former and the quiet, Debussy-esque emotion and contemplation of the latter. While some critics may debate that the first half of this album lacks in emotion, tracks like “Lost Dreamers” – which seems to evoke the same sort of infatuation that enveloped Lee’s past work the most – and “Closer Still” have more feeling packed into their short duration than some indie folk artists have in entire albums. “Not For Nothing” is the last track before this intense shift in thought, also being the track most out of line with Lee’s past work, sounding more like the work of a simpler musician rather than the impassioned artist that brought us Love’s Crushing Diamond as well as the standout track “Advanced Falconry,” a complex, yet still incredibly subtle ballad I still revere to this day as being one of the most thoughtful, gorgeous songs I have ever had the honor of listening to. However, despite its simplicity, it demonstrates Lee’s ability to experiment and not linger within his aesthetic, which he must know by now is tried and true.
The second half of the album is much more introspective and calm, beginning, at least for me, with the haunting, distant track “Many Returns,” where Lee’s voice sounds gorgeously strained and yearning with passion, transforming it into a lush, dreamy soundscape. Although, that is where most of the fault lies with Skip A Sinking Stone, that it is sometimes far too vague and personal to relate with, and it is easy to become lost in the swells of synth, guitar, and menagerie of orchestral instrumentals and lose sight of what the album truly means. Nevertheless, it occurs rarely and sparsely, and even the tracks that fall victim to this are chock full of emotion, especially “The Hereafter,” perhaps the most perfect closing that this album could possibly have. Lee’s voice has never been more soft or delicate, which is only elevated with the melodies of the piano in the background. Through many of the tracks are arguably worthy of the standout title, “Skipping Stones” is well worth your while, as it accurately portrays Lee and Mutual Benefit as it is in reality, a peaceful companion to the journey, the destination, and the growth that occurs in between.
photo courtesy of artist