MUTUAL BENEFIT at the Drake (1150 Queen West), Wednesday (January 15), doors 8 pm. $12. RT, SS. TF.
Ohio-born singer/songwriter Jordan Lee, wise beyond his mid-20s, is careful not to be too puffed by hype. When it came out in October, Love's Crushing Diamond, his seven-song debut album under his stage name Mutual Benefit, received one of those quiet, universally positive critical receptions artists long for.
"That was definitely exciting from a career standpoint, but I try not to get too much validation from critical response. It's easy to get a good feeling, especially if it's a widely read blog or publication, but then you're giving those same blogs the power to make you feel bad later."
He's not completely immune to praise, however. The morning I talk to Lee over the phone from a Columbus suburb where he's visiting his mom happens to be the same morning Devon Welsh - of Montreal indie pop duo Majical Cloudz - posted a 1,400-word essay on Diamond's merits. ("I think I'm allowed to feel pretty good about that," says Lee.)
Lee applied that same measured view to his self-recorded, self-released album, which ebbs and flows both sonically and thematically. The indie folk songs are both happy and sad; hopeful while not getting their hopes up. They eschew classic pop structure but never lose the listener by straying too far from a well-worn songwriting path.
After making six digital albums between 2009 and 2011, Lee wrote and recorded Love's Crushing Diamond - his most polished offering to date - in three different cities: Austin, St. Louis and Boston.
"If I'm bored for a couple of months, it means I'm in the wrong spot," he says. "I try to search for inspiration all the time, and I've made a correlation at this point that if I'm inspired, then I'm fulfilled and happy. So the easiest way to make that happen is to immerse myself in a totally new situation."
Lucky for Lee, who's been Brooklyn-based since September, the travelling life continues: he tours North America and Europe over the next few months.
"One of the big themes of the record is the idea of suchness - where you're completely focused on the moment without the implications of the moment. And it's almost impossible to do that if you have preconceived notions or if you've walked down the same street a hundred times; then it's hard to notice the details."