Mutual Benefits casts off cynicism, keeps love on newest release

You could’ve argued that saying “I love you,” in 2013 would have been seen as some sort of sick joke, yielding a defensive “Why?” Somehow a universal cynicism crept into the year’s most benign conversations as the world ostensibly crumbled around us. The Internet-media behemoth called into question everything from the racial implications of Macklemore to Beyonce’s role in feminism, making it difficult, really, to believe in anything — especially the lofty, abstract ideas that our parents, the alleged creators of all our current problems, championed. 

This is what makes Love’s Crushing Diamond, the fourth full-length project from the Boston-by-way-of-Austin, Texas, folk group Mutual Benefit, one of the year’s best records.

On the album, the millennial obsession with questioning everything that made Miley Cyrus the year’s hottest topic turns on itself.  This begs the question “Why do we still fall in love?” with the same wide-eyed, boyish charm that made Sufjan Stevens an indelible figure in early 2000’s indie music.

Mutual Benefit treads lightly, though. Much like how Stevens’ religious underpinnings never felt anything short of wondrous, Love’s Crushing Diamond successfully basks in the fact that, despite everything, we know absolutely nothing about why anything happens.

Album opener “Strong River” tiptoes on an array of sonic elements gently crashing in what sounds like preparation. The song blooms at the two-minute mark with singer-songwriter Jordan Lee’s whispered declaration “I clear my mind of joy and sorrow/ river doesn’t know tomorrow.” Lee’s songwriting is both simplistic and complicatedly braided. “Golden Wake,” the album’s second track, bleeds from the first as Lee howls, “We weren’t made to be afraid,” beneath the band’s delicate orchestral motions.

In a lot of ways, Mutual Benefit came out of nowhere. Outside of the frankly overcrowded folk circuit in Austin, the band had little in terms of a following. A flood of promotional emails to online outlets with the album’s third track “Advanced Falconry,” however, managed to catapult the band, rightfully, into the public conversation.  

The song is perhaps the album’s most personal but also its least descript. On it, Lee gently drones, “But I won’t forget the way she flies,” about the song’s existential subject. This isn’t a love song where someone longs for some angelic — and problematic — “she,” but a pondering on the emotion, itself — the astonishment at the abstract possibility of falling in love.

Lee moved from Austin to Boston to work with his sister’s wedding photography company, he told Pitchfork.

“I’ve been doing this for so many years that I can’t look at pictures of people getting married every single day and not believe in love,” Lee said. 

You could’ve argued in 2013 that Lee was in the minority for his belief. Though much of society feels we’ve grown beyond needing another person to be happy, by the end of “Love’s Crushing Diamond,” you can’t deny that knowing it’s still possible to believe in love makes love seem that much more probable.