When Arcade Fire’s Reflektor was released at the back end of last year, it was impossible to miss. With billboards and rogue artwork across American cities, secret gigs, interactive music videos and a performance on SNL its’ release was there for all to see. Given their nature as one of the biggest bands in the world today that is almost to be expected, yet for most artists this is the case. Building up the hype, release debut single and then the endless touring and promotion.
However in this age of DIY records that is not always the case. Mutual Benefit, the creation of American Jordan Lee, are a clear example of this. Their debut LP Love’s Crushing Diamond was released via bandcamp with little fanfare. In fact it would of gone completely unnoticed in the wider musical world had Pitchfork not picked it up and named it Best New Music, the first time ever for a bandcamp release. Since then it has been riding on an upwards trajectory of ever increasing popularity and critical recognition, and that, in many ways, is representative of the record itself. It does not come smashing into you like a full speed train, but instead gently drifts along like clouds in sky, never demanding too much from the listener but always present and enveloping.
Love’s Crushing Diamond is 7 tracks long, running just over 30 minutes play time. For the record, Jordan Lee is joined by 12 other musicians, an array of violinists, backing singers, electronics and more. The pure wealth in musicians is evident in their sound, not one feeling out of place or offering a pointless role. It is the kind of record you need to plug in your headphones in for, lie down and listen to in its entirety, then press play and go again, just to understand what is in offer. With each listen hidden subtleties spring out, dashes of musical imagination that you did not hear the first time round. The intricate layering of sound is comparable to Japanese artist Takagi Masakatsu, however what sets Mutual Benefit apart, and where Masakatsu falters, is that they have songs to compliment their sound.
The album is book ended by opener Strong River and closer Strong Swimmer. The verse “I clear my mind of joy and sorrow/ the river doesn’t know tomorrow/ rolls along with such simplicity/ you told me you had stashed away/ a note that would explain the way/ you felt if we would ever find you gone / the river only knows to carry on,” is both the opening to the LP and the closing and it epitomises a large part of what thematically the album is about. It dwells largely on love, but also on loss, isolation and vulnerability, all the while embraced by this driving idea that everything keeps going whatever happens. It is not a bleak album, but it is personal and there is a fragility present in Lee’s voice which swims perfectly in accordance with the sound.
The sound though is where the band excels. The songs are all built in a similar way, textured and delicate and layered upon a folk-like base. Yet despite this, it never feels repetitive or monotonous. In the two stand out tracks Golden Wake and Advanced Falconry there is an increase in tempo and purpose, an almost catchy drive to the centre of the record. This then blends into the stark That Light that’s Blinding, with its’ forlorn lyrical centre “and to fall into darkness/ until it took over every part of you/ to sweat out the toxin/ to look for god in an empty motel room,” highlighting the variety in the LP despite the refined scope. It is a record you listen to as an album, not as individual tracks, as on their own they would not stand up in the same way.
Love’s Crushing Diamond is an album of progression, yet in ways, it goes nowhere it all. It builds and builds yet in the end you are where you started. It will not grab you, but if you spend time with it, it becomes one of the most rewarding and enjoyable records you will hear this year. It is a rare piece of musical ingenuity and hopefully it will not be long before they produce another; indeed “the river only knows to carry on.”
Visit http://mutualbenefit.bandcamp.com/ to download Love’s Crushing Diamond and other EP’s from Mutual Benefit.