Mutual Benefit, “Thunder Follows the Light”

Mutual Benefit
Thunder Follows the Light
TRANSGRESSIVE
7/10

After receiving near-universal acclaim with the release of 2013’s Love’s Crushing Diamond, Mutual Benefit, the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jordan Lee, was finally able to enjoy the fruits of its labor. Even though most people were discovering Lee’s music for the first time, Lee had quietly released a handful of albums and EPs as Mutual Benefit before anybody seemed to give a damn, gradually perfecting his recipe for sparse indie-folk. Thunder Follows the Light, Mutual Benefit’s newest album, is an examination of the destruction of our planet, the effects of gentrification, our crumbling democracy, and the ways in which those things augment our suffering. It’s breathtaking and muddling, an ornate collection of chamber pop about a deep-seated anxiety that the end is near.

Still operating under the same cozy, homespun sound that made Diamond feel so serene, candid, and uninhibited, Lee’s most recent offering is a ruminative journey imbued with a sense of hope—a daring contradiction to the album’s underlying theme of the apocalypse. Opener “Written in Lightning,” adorned with splashes of banjo plucks and flickers of strings, is a stirring gem of baroque-folk. The track rises and crashes like an incoming squall, eventually sinking back into the night sky.

On album highlight “Storm Cellar Heart,” Lee’s pearly falsetto floats atop a stripped-down arrangement of fingerpicked guitar and piano. Never raising above a murmur, his voice almost sounds as if it’s right there in the room with you, reminding you that everything will be alright. On the roaring “Waves, Breaking,” featuring vocals from Johanne Swanson of Yohuna, the pair sings in tandem, “That moon can pull and those waves can break, but we rarely listen,” a distress signal for a dying planet. Similarly, “No Dominion” addresses the storms we face within ourselves, a downcast piano ballad about struggling with mental health.

To Lee, the end of the world is merely a natural evolution, much like the way seasons change or flowers rot, and Thunder Follows the Light is about basking in the calm before the chaos—that brief moment of silence where clarity breaks through.

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