Personnel: Mike Clifford (vocals, guitar, piano); Jake Falby (vocals, violin, synthesizer); Whitney Lee (vocals); Dillon Zahner (guitar, drums); Renata Zeiguer (violin); Emmet Moeller (viola); Ali Jones (cello); Noah Klein, Bruce Falby (flute); Dave Kadden (oboe); Carlos Hernandez (piano); Dan Goldberg (synthesizer); Brian Bo (vibraphone); Julian Fader (drums).
Audio Mixers: Michael Clifford; Jake Falby; Dillon Zahner; Jordan Lee ; Brian Deck.
Recording information: Gravesend Recordings.
Arranger: Jordan Lee .
Preserving the sylvan elegance of the band's full-length debut, Love's Crushing Diamond, Mutual Benefit follow up with a similarly tranquil and contemplative sophomore LP that flows from song to song like a babbling brook. Overlapping strata of impressionistic piano, acoustic guitar, bells, chamber strings, and scene-setting synths form the instrumental intro "Madrugada," which may well evoke images of scampering water fairies befitting the album's title, Skip a Sinking Stone. The nature imagery isn't conjured by accident; rather it's found-sound and field recordings, such as the crickets in "Nocturne"; they're blended into the soundscape among other bits of manipulated noise, all conspiring to produce veritable indie-pop tone poems. Essentially a solo enterprise by singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lee, but with a sizable cast of helpers, Mutual Benefit also deliver more straightforward song, including "Not for Nothing." It makes do with acoustic guitar, piano, and drums under Lee's gentle, occasionally cracking delivery that wonders if love can survive distance, before strings and effects embellish the mix. The hazier "Many Returns" has similar components but uses reverb, sustain, and humming synths to blend timbres for a trippy, mellow offering led by floating chord progressions. In the meantime, Skip a Sinking Stone's lyrics take listeners through moments of both contentedness and despondency, such as on "City Sirens," a song inspired by Lee's move to New York amid highly publicized incidents of police brutality, incongruous court verdicts, and resulting protests ("Sorrow echoes through broken windows"). The record ends back beside water and dragonflies with a stone that falls "further down to murky depths" ("The Hereafter"), though its final words offer the somewhat hopeful "Can love die/Or does it come back and find us/Every time." Throughout, the album never loses its quietly hypnotic, reflective character or its soft-footed, ornate chamber-folk palette, transporting us to a distinct and remote destination that's nonetheless intimately relatable. ~ Marcy Donelson