Mutual Benefit - Thunder Follows The Light

by Tim Sentz Rating:8 Release Date:2018-09-21
Mutual Benefit - Thunder Follows the Light
Mutual Benefit - Thunder Follows the Light

Jordan Lee’s Mutual Benefit project picked up traction at the tail-end of 2013 with Love’s Crushing Diamond – a wonderfully lush folk record, that called to mind influences across the indie rock spectrum, from Sparklehorse to Sufjan Stevens. By the time the proper follow-up in 2016’s Skip a Sinking Stone, that tired format had overstayed it’s welcome, and Stone was largely ignored.

Two years later, Lee’s back and he’s learned from his previous mistakes. Thunder Follows the Light on the surface may seem like a retread of his 2013 effort – it’s still a folk-pop record, and still recalling the Sufjan’s and Devendra Banhart's – but Thunder is much more than that. On the opener “Written in Lightning,” Lee brings violin strings in to set the stage for the album before simple drums laced with his vocals come into focus. Despite its title, Thunder is a rather chill album, and the closest relatable album I can think of is Illinois by Sufjan Stevens. In fact, Thunder may very well be that albums spiritual successor, but with less experimentation.

Mutual Benefit isn’t a Sufjan rip-off though. This is grand folk-pop, that not even Fleet Foxes dare make, and it’s Lee’s vocals that really set it apart. Everything about the album hinges on his voice, which rarely changes throughout, no matter what instrument he’s paired with – from piano keys to electric guitar – he maintains course. The first preview of Thunder came from “Storm Cellar Heart” an early highlight of the album, with its section and orchestral arrangements. Even if this style has been worn out over the last few years, Lee doesn’t care, as it still sounds fresh and inviting. And while he’s not up on stage leading the world’s largest collective foot stomp, his arrangements are like sugar for the ears.

“Shedding Skin” demands radio play with its piano intro, meanwhile Lee elegantly fills the head with visuals of vibrant landscapes – like the olden folk records used to. There’s a vintage feel to Thunder Follows the Light that isn’t overly prevalent in the genre anymore, despite the desire to drum up those same influences. Thunder feels light, jovial, and serene. On “Come to Pass” Lee looks inward but keeps things tender and perfectly soundtracks a walk through the park as leaves fall. “Waves Breaking” brings the tone down a bit, with hard organ pressing, but Lee maintains his airy voice, even as the waves literally break into a thunderous finale.

Thunder Follows the Light is Lee’s ninth release under the Mutual Benefit moniker and shows no sign of weariness. And while the album’s main theme is that of destruction, Lee handles with poise and encouragement. This isn’t one of those mopey folk records that’s going to bring you to tears, it’ll soothe your heart, and prepare you for the next steps. Comparing to previous albums would be unfair, but Thunder Follows the Light feels like a stronger album than Skip a Sinking Stone if only for the intricacies Lee’s handled here so thoughtfully. It’s warm, and it’s breezy: a perfect autumn record that feels entirely prescient of the times.

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