Music, magic and the muse
Mutual Benefit performing at Center for the Arts Eagle Rock Tuesday night
By Bliss Bowen 01/23/2014
There’s a virtual parallel universe fat with blogs testifying to the value of taking leaps of faith into the unknown, following your dreams and trusting that abundance — or at least freedom and minimal sustenance — will follow. Artist Jordan Lee, who makes music under the name Mutual Benefit, didn’t need any self-help manuals to give him that advice. He’s been living the reality of that belief for the past several years, independently recording and releasing his music and touring behind it, with sometimes amazing, sometimes dispiriting results.
A creatively driven DIY self-starter before “do it yourself” became a hipster bandwagon, Lee seems to be in perpetual motion, making music for Mutual Benefit, blogging, touring, and running Kassette Club, which he started to release his own music as well as recordings by friends that he believes in. He writes about “magic” and the power of community and self-expression, but he backs up his idealism with a hell of a lot of hard work. The restless Pickerington, Ohio, native — who has hung his hat in Austin, Boston, St. Louis and, most recently, Brooklyn — has worked various part-time jobs between DIY tours through college campuses, big cities and smaller towns, where he played for five to 40 people in basements, living rooms and dingy clubs, sometimes not knowing where or if money would materialize to get him to his next gig.
Lee was planning to self-release last year’s rightly acclaimed “Love’s Crushing Diamond,” a seven-track set that feels like a full-length album thanks to its detailed orchestrations, but it garnered such enthusiastic response that eventually the Fat Possum-affiliated indie label Other Music Recording Co. stepped up to help give it a wider platform. Composed in response to his own feelings of powerlessness as he witnessed loved ones suffering through addiction and other traumas, the songs on “Diamond” began as humble folk tunes. Lee has often cited Nick Drake and Elliott Smith as inspirations, and their influence is discernible, but more crucial to “Diamond” is violinist Jake Falby, to whom Lee has given much credit for the arrangements that make the album such a sweet listening experience. It flows like a musical stream of consciousness, with guitar figures spiraling through “Advanced Falconry” and Asian-sounding chimes and electronics sparkling through “C.L. Rosarian” like sunlight on a river. The uncertainty of his early days is reflected in “Golden Wake”: “I called to quit my job today/ And in these holy empty hours/ When my quiet thoughts get louder/ Son, you’re born to be this way/ You weren’t made to be afraid.” Looks like that faith in his music is finally paying off.
Mutual Benefit performs from 8 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, 2225 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock; $12.50. For information, call (323) 226-1617. mutualbenefit.tumblr.com/, cfaer.org