When I was younger, I lived in the city. I used to really enjoy walking over to the fountain on my breaks from work. I’d get a bite to eat, and sit and watch people. In particular, I was always fascinated with the children who would try to catch the birds. They’d try to creep up slow and silent, but the skittish pigeons always took to the air long before anyone ever got close to catching one. I know that birds have hollow bones and therefore weigh next to nothing, and I always imagined that their light weights made them extra fragile and delicate.
Listening to Mutual Benefit’s debut LP, Love’s Crushing Diamond, I’m reminded of those birds, and of the futile attempts by those children to catch one. Everything on this album feels lightweight and airy, like it could fly away at a moment’s notice. At first, the delicate arrangements and airy vocals are captivating, much like those birds must seem to the children chasing them. Indeed, it’s not a bad record by any reckoning.
My main complaint is that the constant lightness which permeates every beat, measure, and note of this recording. It wears thin pretty darn quick. Most songs follow a pattern, starting off with some genuinely pretty melodies from guitar or sequencer then backed up by some unorthodox but not unpleasant eastern sounding strings. The fact that this trick of arranging is found on the first four of the record’s seven tracks doesn’t help with the formulaic feel, I’m, sure. It’s also telling that the only other image this conjured in my mind was of a petite geisha, twittering and bowing obsequiously as she backs away from her client. It’s hard to be frustrated with someone who so obviously wishes to please, but that behavior becomes grating very quickly if it’s all you’re getting.
Jordan Lee’s voice, which is sometimes the only other thing we hear coupled with the aforementioned instrumentation, is a bit high-pitched, and often seems to float aimlessly over the melodic backing. I came away from listening to the album feeling as though a very small spot on my skin had been stimulated nonstop for the last half hour with a fine gossamer fabric. It was great at first but grew to be extremely uncomfortable before it was over. Still, it’s worth mentioning that some of the individual tracks are very lovely indeed. The delicate framework that initially made me think of pigeon bones could be utterly entrancing in small doses. Advanced Falconry, in particular, has a bewitching, hypnotic effect due to the gentle rise and fall of the melody. For the length of that one song, I was able to close my eyes and imagine drifting serenely on the breeze, just like a bird.