Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mutual Benefit’s Jordan Lee on honest songwriting and unexpected success

Photo by Jessica Lehrman | via
Photo by Jessica Lehrman | via

Jordan Lee hopes Philadelphians aren’t big fans of fog machines.

The subject comes up almost immediately on the phone with the indie folk artist behind breakout band Mutual Benefit as he travels to St. Paul from Chicago, where he had just played a show at Lincoln Hall.

“There was a fog machine that was just going the whole time. That was a new experience for us, I think,” he says of the set, not letting on at first whether that new experience was good or bad. “Visually, it was pretty cool. I felt like a wizard of some sort. But also, it’s kind of poisonous, I think. It made my throat hurt by the end.”

Lee and the band of musicians he assembled to fill out Mutual Benefit’s live show will play a hopefully fog-less set at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Boot & Saddle with local acts Lewis & Clarke and The Interest Group. Just like his aversion to gimmicks like this on stage, Lee’s brand of soulful, whimsical electro-tinged pop folk is also straightforward, without smoke and mirrors. It’s helped bring him acclaim for the band’s first LP, Love’s Crushing Diamond, which came out this past October.

Speaking to The Key from the tour van, Lee brings up a record review published in London that describes him as “an understated king of folk music.” New to such widespread praise for his music, he views quotes like this as more of an embarrassment than a compliment.

“It’s definitely not bad to hear that kind of stuff,” Lee says. “But I guess, if you get wrapped up too much in what you think about a thing that you made and how it’s received, then you’re kind of giving that same power to people to make you feel bad about something you made.”

Lee didn’t create Love’s Crushing Diamond with the idea that this many people would hear it. Continue reading →


The Districts celebrate their new EP with an energized set at A.K.A. Music

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

A crowd gathered in A.K.A. Music in Old City Tuesday night not to peruse records, but to watch The Districts celebrate the release of their debut EP with Fat Possum Records.

Ranging from devout listeners to random passersby, the buzzing Central Pa. band welcomed the audience (many munching on free slices from Pizza Brain) as they walked around the record store shaking hands, greeting friends and fans with beaming grins.

The Districts took the stage at about 6:30 p.m. and played for roughly an hour, playing the newly-released EP in its entirety, mixed with songs off of its self-released 2012 album, Telephone.

First up was the first song from the EP, “Rocking Chair.” Knees started to bend and heads bobbed in the crowd of more than 100 people as soon as fans recognized Rob Grote and Mark Larson’s twinkly guitar notes. As Grote thanked the audience for coming out, he moved onto “Call Box,” “Lyla,” “4 & 4” and the harmonizing-tune “Stay Open.” The band went from song-to-song flawlessly, sounding just as pristine as their recordings while giving the same energy as any live show.

“Long Distance” generated some of the most reaction, with the crowd singing along to the chorus and rocking out to the song’s 20-second breakdown, followed by the rest of the set which included “Peaches” – a preview of a new song to be released on an upcoming full-length album – and “Silver Couplets.”

Fans anticipated the performance of The Districts’ hit, “Funeral Beds,” and the band delivered.  Generating well over 300,000 hits on the song’s HotBox Session, the crowd once again sung along and grooved to the foot-stomping beat.

January 28th was a big day for The Districts. In addition to the record release, the band also announced on its Facebook page that it will play the Boston Calling Festival in late May. Its next stop before embarking on a nationwide tour with White Denim will opening for one of their Philly favorites, Dr. Dog, this Friday at the Electric Factory.


The Districts gain more recognition before embarking on tour

Photo by Eric Ashleigh
Photo by Eric Ashleigh

Philadelphia’s own The Districts are only four days away from releasing their self-titled EP after signing on with Fat Possum Records this past November. The label is famous for supporting other indie-rockers like The Black Keys, Youth Lagoon, Tennis and many more.

Yesterday, Rolling Stone gave The Districts a little recognition and allowed audiences a peak into the the full EP.

Songs “Lyla,” “Funeral Beds” and “Long Distance” are nothing new to the band’s fans since the tunes are remastered off of an earlier self-released album. However, the two newest songs, “Rocking Chair” and “Stay Open” offer two different, but welcome feels to the EP.

“Rocking Chair” is the kind of song a sea of indie-rockers could jump up and down to, with its in-your-face build ups and catchy lyrics. “Stay Open” is slower-paced for the band, but still true to The Districts’ sound.

The Districts are about to embark on its first national tour with White Denim in February, but before that, they’re playing a free release show in-store on Jan. 28 at A.K.A Music. Just a few days later, The Districts will be joining other Philly natives Dr. Dog as the band’s opening act at The Electric Factory on Jan. 31.

Listen to The Districts’ self-titled EP here, and stream “Funeral Beds” below.


Listen to “Funeral Beds” from The Districts self-titled EP, out on Fat Possum in January

Photo by Eric Ashleigh
Photo by Eric Ashleigh

So it’s not quite a “new” song from The Districts, but we’ll take it. The harmonoica-led bootsomper “Funeral Beds” is a track featured prominently on the band’s 2012 self-released LP Telephone, and went on to generate a bit of viral chitchat when the HotBox Session video of the song landed on Reddit. Now we’ve received word that “Funeral Beds” will be featured on the self-titled EP The Districts will release as part of their new record deal with Fat Possum.

The five-song EP will be out on CD and digital formats on January 28th (an iTunes preorder is available here), and features an abstract collage as cover art (check it out after the jump). Of the five songs, two others were featured on Telephone – “Lyla” and “Long Distance” – while the remaining two, “Rocking Chair” and “Stay Open,” are new songs the band recorded this summer in Waking Studio with producer Bill Moriarty (and we’re amped to hear them).

Revisit “Funeral Beds” in the player below, and catch The Districts on tour this winter. They play The Chameleon Club in Lancaster on December 21st, and Union Transfer with White Denim on February 27th; tickets and information on both shows can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

Continue reading →


Delaware duo Mean Lady signs to Fat Possum, releasing a 7″ in November (free download)

Photo by Molly Mooney
Newark-based groove pop outfit Mean Lady are taking a big step forward. Core players Sam Nobles and Katie Dill are moving from releasing their eclectic electronic music through Bandcamp to releasing it through Fat Possum Records. Today the label announced its first single with the band, a bouncy number called “Bop Bop” that will be released as a 7″ on November 6. The track premiered today via Pitchfork; you can download it here. Below, dig into the Mean Lady back catalogue with 2010’s Kid-Friendly EP, and look for two regional appearances from them this fall: at Mojo Main in Newark on Halloween and Spaceboy Clothing in Wilmington on November 17.