May is a good month for a new Mutual Benefit record. It’s an in-between month. It’s a month where things are growing, and the air is kinetic. Every Mutual Benefit song has that same quality—like you’re about to witness a delicate, rare flower bloom for just a moment. When Jordan Lee visited WIUX last year, he speculated that his next album would be full of boring love songs. Skip a Sinking Stone is a twelve song—all of which are far from boring—meditation on love, fear, and moving forward.
The album opens with the instrumental “Madrugada.” The word in Spanish means “early morning,” which is a pretty accurate descriptor for the vibe of this short intro. It’s like a musical sunrise. The music carries directly into the second track, “Skipping Stones.” As Lee predicted, this is a love song, but it swaps out a happy-go-lucky vibe for self-awareness. “I’m so afraid to feel this way again, but I let you in,” Lee sings as the music opens into a flourish of orchestral instruments. The next verse mirrors this with, “I’m so afraid to fall in love again//I know how it ends.” It’s the level of insightfulness one has come to expect and appreciate from Mutual Benefit after listening to 2013’s Love’s Crushing Diamond.
“Closer, Still” and “Lost Dreamers” are odes to the insular nature of being in love. The first being more about two people trying to transcend barriers with each other, and the second being a testament to two people apart from the rest of the world. All Mutual Benefit music reads as introspective, and while the instrumentation has an airy, moving quality to it, the lyrics add a grounding, contemplative tone.
Next up is “Getting Gone.” This track is about touring and its emotional complexities. The drumbeat has a relaxed yet definitively forward-moving quality to it. This song sounds like being piled into a cramped station wagon winding its way through a dusky forest. While touring does not sound easy, Lee makes some sense of small revelations gained on the road when he sings, “If there’s one thing I know it’s that all good times go//And the hard times too.” It’s a successful track about moving through—both physically and emotionally.
“Not For Nothing” could also be read as a touring song. This track first appeared in the Shaking Through series last year, and I fell in love with it right then and there. It has gone through some slight changes for this album—incorporating a similar drumbeat to “Getting Gone”—but the heart of the song is the same. It’s about leaving and still wanting continuity. “Starry nights and endless skies//I think I got it bad this time//I stayed up looking for some sign out the window.” It’s a song about missing someone and finding your way back to them, and perhaps subsequently back home.
After a brief interlude with “Nocturne,” we float into “Slow March.” It’s a measured track about the gaps in understanding between two people. “Many Returns” moves Skip a Sinking Stone into darker territory. Its minor chords and chorus of haunting “ooohs” is a departure from the dreamier majority of the record. “City Sirens” is a 1:45 vignette about the grave omen of blaring sirens.
The album wraps up with “Fire Escape” and “The Hereafter.” The latter concluding the record with a revisit to the skipping stone imagery from earlier on. Skip a Sinking Stone is most assuredly an album about love, but Lee isn’t claiming to have all the answers. Although, when he sings, “Does love die or does it come back and find us every time?” I have a feeling he knows that one.