Mutual Benefit, ‘Growing at the Edges’, a new album out 6th October


New York-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Jordan Lee aka Mutual Benefit has today announced details of his fourth album, Growing at the Edges which is set for release on October 6th. Alongside the news of this 10-track body of work, Lee has shared the first single, “Little Ways” which arrives with a video directed by Vidhu Kota in Brooklyn.

For Lee, who has recorded as Mutual Benefit since 2009, the title of his expansive new album, Growing at the Edges, is many-layered. “I became interested in the unruly first signs of growth after a disaster, and the beautiful ways lives start to blur into each other through relationships,” Lee says. “Edges are where spaces are negotiated.”

First single “Little Ways” signposts a stunning introduction to the new collection; sonically expansive with country -adjacent influences occasionally poking through. The track acted as a cheerful reminder for Lee throughout the pandemic, helping him through times of uncertainty. Speaking about this first glimpse of Growing at the Edges, Lee says: “‘Little Ways’ came out of a period in my 30’s where acquaintances were buying houses and starting backyard gardens while I was still in a cramped Brooklyn apartment wondering if my life was stuck in place. I eventually found contentment through staying in the present moment and noticing how our inner and outer landscapes change a little each day and that it is our relationships that make a place meaningful.”

With Growing at the Edges, Lee brought in two crucial collaborators: his first-ever co-producer in multi-instrumentalist Gabe Birnbaum, of Brooklyn’s Wilder Maker, and violinist Concetta Abatte, who contributed string arrangements. The interplay of Birnbaum’s jazz and country riffs and Abbatte’s chamber folk arrangements leant Growing at the Edges an ensemble feel and an aliveness. With their vast musical vocabularies, Lee’s abstract ideas could be made concrete. Other collaborators included guitarist Jonnie Baker (Florist), vocalist Eva Goodman (Nighttime), standup bassist Nick Jost (Wilder Maker, Baroness), and drummer Sean Mullins (Wilder Maker, Sam Evian).

The album title, Growing at the Edges took on another dimension as Lee actualized his desire to grow his range as a songwriter, pianist, and collaborator. Written over the span of five years, the album took root with two artist residencies completed in 2019: one at a former watchtower in Northern Ireland where he was commissioned to compose a soundtrack, and another in Gainesville, Florida. Both allowed Lee time and space to experiment, to spontaneously explore, and to live inside his emergent songs.

Stuck at home in 2020, Lee found comfort in New York’s many jazz and classical radio stations, which moved him to investigate wider musical possibilities, slowly developing his ear towards new phrasings, harmonies, and ensemble textures, and inspiring exploratory nightly piano sessions of his own. These new rituals of listening and playing helped recontextualize the fragments of songs he’d begun in 2019, recalibrating his feel for space and structure. “In songs that before would maybe resolve in a predictable place, I started doing these what if’s,” he says. “What if it went somewhere unexpected instead?” As Lee’s skills solidified, so, too, did the convictions of his lyrics. Growing at the Edges contains a political tow that, though never didactic, is unmistakable. “There’s still quite a bit of searching,” he says. “In fact, a central theme of this album is that it’s okay, at any age, to search your core beliefs and figure out if you might be fundamentally wrong about something. A lot of the lyrics in my previous albums were questions, and I think I ventured out and made a couple more statements on this one.” Books like Mushroom at the End of The World by Anna Tsing, and Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass were among his influences.

Lee began writing Growing at the Edges at a creative crossroads, but it led to his most intentional, adventurous, and realized album, a world to enter. In writing, Lee was thinking about areas of life that capitalism deems to be valueless, how the reality of relentless extraction creates what are perceived to be wastelands. “We’re at this point in time where there are so many ‘wastelands’ because value has been taken from so many places, so many art forms,” Lee adds. “I was thinking about the growth that’s happening right on the edge of that wasteland, and how that, to me, is the most beautiful and interesting area. That’s where important things are going to happen.”