IT TOOK ONLY a few months to propel Brooklyn-based songwriter Jordan Lee from self-releasing cassettes in relative obscurity to being a closely watched rising star. And with good reason: Love's Crushing Diamond, the breakthrough album from his band Mutual Benefit, contains some real magic. Below its surface layer of mellow pop is a complex web of unique instrumentation and loosely interwoven orchestrations that turn its seven songs into one complete experience. It doesn't fit neatly into any category—appropriate, given the amorphous nature of the group.
Less a typical band and more like an evolving music project with Lee at the helm, Mutual Benefit has an ever-rotating lineup that's based on which of Lee's friends are available to tour or record at any given time. "I love it because everyone brings their own unique style and energy into the band, so [it's] always changing it up," he says.
While Love's Crushing Diamond blends elements of folk, chamber pop, and ambient music, don't expect the live show to mimic the album. "Performing and recording are such different processes and are done in such different contexts that I try to approach them very separately," Lee says. "It's not too important to me to perfectly recreate the songs as they appear on the recordings... so I try to make live arrangements of the songs that fit with the other players and that still convey the same feelings."
This mutable approach means you never know quite what you'll get at a Mutual Benefit show. While their shows have often featured just a few members, or, in some cases, Lee alone on an electric guitar, they can also get a little rowdy. "At a house show a couple tours ago, the three bands I was touring with formed together into an un-supergroup for the last show. There were probably 10 of us up there, totally screwing up every Mutual Benefit song in a hugely fun, drunken public failure kind of way," he says. The current tour is the largest official lineup yet, with six members and the potential to be a very different experience than anything that's been put to record. According to Lee, "We have a drummer now, so less baroque folk, more doom metal!"