A breezy celebration of everyday wonders

Imbibing the latest album by Jordan Lee, the itinerant American who looks like the cherubic faun, Mr Tumnus, from the Narnia film, one forgets temporarily the oppressive heat wave and luxuriates in a sonic breeze caressing your skin.

Skip A Sinking Stone is that rarefied creature - rather than pounding with hard-hitting, glossy, purposeful beats, it strips everything back, preferring to tap, coo and gallivant without a care in the world. It whispers, it doesn't shout.

As Mutual Benefit, Lee is not going to change the world. Instead, it exhorts us to relook, to zoom in on details, discovering beauty beneath quotidian surfaces.

Whereas his proper debut, 2013's sublime Love's Crushing Diamond, is a cycle, Skip A Sinking Stone is an ode to the vagaries of fate, the impermanence of relationships and the commitment needed.

The album is a treatise in two parts - the first six songs track his life on the road while the last six roost in New York, his newest home. It's a yin-yang meditation on rootlessness and, conversely, a sense of belonging and responsibility.

With all its gentle strums and pitter-pattering percussion, detractors may find it twee, but then detractors are, frankly, easily distracted.



    Mutual Benefit

    Transgressive Records

    4/5 stars

The album highlights those serendipitous moments busy folk tend to overlook, so much so that sometimes words are not necessary. You hear, no, feel the tactile quality in Lee's celebration of everyday wonders.

The album opens with Madrugada, which is an old Portuguese word referring to dawn, with its awakening piano tinkling and shimmering synths, heralding a new beginning.

Mid-album, it shifts gear to Nocturne, a found-sound interlude alive with conspiratorial crickets amid lingering strings and barely there synths.

Elsewhere, Lee admits vulnerability. In Skipping Stones - referring to how far a stone can go across a watery surface - he sings: "I'm so afraid to feel this way again/But I'll let you in." His heart is stirred, and despite timorous reservations, opens up.

It is followed by Closer, Still, a track so beautiful and breathlessly brief, it aches.

Lost Dreamers swirls with the intoxication of love, or something like love. "Let's take the long way home, let's throw away our phones," he beseeches, the half-rhyme in the end-words enhancing the magical spell. Holding all this together is Lee's gentle purr, which never loses its own hymnal quality even when life has dealt its strongest blow.

The organ shadows his mournful plea against creeping cynicism in Many Returns, and returns in City Sirens, a indictment of police brutality with stately piano and his observation that "sorrow echoes through broken windows".

It ends on a wistful note with The Hereafter, as Lee rues the drop of the stone "further down to murky depths", over plaintive plucks of the Chinese zither, guzheng.

"Can love die/Or does it come back and find us/Every time?" he asks, caught between sadness and hopefulness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'A breezy celebration of everyday wonders'. Print Edition | Subscribe