In his Mutual Benefit guise, NYC singer-songwriter Jordan Lee has recorded with artists like Julie Byrne and covered Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day in full. Safe to say that you can go into his latest full-length Thunder Follows The Light expecting a light touch. Lee weaves ten spare, spectral pieces here, lightly dappling his time-worn voice-and-guitar combo with synths and orchestral instruments in a manner that recalls Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie And Lowell.
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An accidentally famous bedroom songwriter, Mutual Benefit’s soaring delicacy first captured the imagination with ‘Love’s Crushing Diamind’. It’s to the artist’s credit that he’s been largely unphased by the attention and continues to craft the same gorgeous records, each defined by their pristine arrangements and peripheral emotional states. On ‘Thunder Follows The Light’, frontman Jordan Lee continues to create impactful music with a lightness of step, utilising dulcet piano, country twang and vaporous acoustic strums. A little more than it used to be, the sound of Mutual Benefit is still to die for -- or just to ache with.
“Storm Cellar Heart” is an immediate highlight. The breathy, barely there woodwinds and quietly crashing cymbals that accent the songs’ verses and choruses show off Lee’s restraint as an arranger, someone who can make his music full without forcing it to be loud. It’s simple, effective stuff that makes me think of all the artists we’ve been comparing to Elliott Smith instead of him: Angelo de Augustine comes to mind, quite immediately, the same pastoral aphorisms seeping through.
And is it just me, or does Lee sound a little more outward and adventurous, here? I can hear the outdoors calling for him on “Come to Pass”. The strums and percussion are rustic, in timbre, as if blown about by the wind, and the country twang comes through clearly, once more, suggesting space and movement like never before. On “Waves, Breaking”, a jazzy backdrop of raspy, near-soloing saxophones reminds me of Ryley Walker and his prog affectations, suggesting different structures for Lee to solicit. The slight, soft aesthetics that define Mutual Benefit is here, living on, but an expansive approach to building songs and -- building them with others -- moves him on. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a good sax trill, but I’m immensely charmed by what Lee sees in his craft and his life on ‘Thunder Follows the Light’: potential.
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