Jordan Lee's second proper album as Mutual Benefit begins in the same way that his last album did, with fluttering chimes that give way to an album of the kind of gorgeous folk-tinged baroque-pop that can literally feel like the beginning of a new day. The songs on Skip a Sinking Stone are as delicate and intimate as the ones on Love's Crushing Diamond, giving the impression that you're seated in the same room with Lee as he quietly lays them all down. What sets them apart is just how lush they are.

The tape experiments have been dialed back, Lee's voice has been pushed a little more into the foreground, and there's a greater warmth and depth felt in the arrangements. 'Skipping Stones' starts off quietly with nothing more than gentle pianos and his understated singing, then builds to a burst of radiant strings and choral harmonies capable of leaving a lump in your throat. On 'Closer, Still', the intricate finger-picking, twinkling keyboards, and airy harmonies have the effect of sunlight passing through thick branches, while 'Lost Dreamers' takes a page out of Big Star's #1 album.

Thematically this is a more personal, complex, and varied album for Lee. His nomadic life as a touring musician and all of the freedom and trappings that comes with it serves as one of several inspirations. The breakdown of his relationship is another one, and he uses the context of its beginning and ending to focus on a broader narrative, one that examines the cyclistic nature of life as a whole: beginnings and endings and how everything that comes in between is fleeting, regardless of what it means to us. None of it is so personal, however, that neither you or I couldn't relate to it.

"I'm so afraid to feel this way again/But I'll let you in" he sings on 'Skipping Stones' with an air of reservation and conflict in his voice. It's the kinds of lines you could just as easily expect to read in an inbox as you could in a text message. He knows how love usually ends, but he can't shake the nagging feelings he's dealing with. And though he's the kind of songwriter capable of summing up the feeling of heartbreak in some heartwarming and even comforting way, he instead likens it to a virus invading and spreading throughout our bodies on 'The Hereafter' where he sings "What’s to say/ When we break in our skin." Even if it turns out not be the most wrenching lyric you've heard about heartache in a song, it's bound to be of the more memorable ones.

Some of the most bleakest moments come not from his own personal troubles or tour exhaustion, but from his observations of the world around him. For the recording of the album, Lee made his home in New York, a city that was in a state of turmoil at the time due to a number of high-profile police brutality cases and protests that were partly in response to the murder of Eric Garner. The story goes that he collaborated on the song 'City Sirens' with a friend who teaches kids about hip hop in Brooklyn. One morning, he noticed that someone had tagged a wall in New York with Eric Garner's last words, and, that moment, along with the protests he witnessed firsthand, compelled him to write the song in response.

'Fire Escape' functions as a counterpart to that song, and it isn't surprising that they both wind up being some of the more painfully beautiful songs on here. And that's the thing about his songwriting, for all of the ugliness, heartache, and disappointment, Lee isn't really capable of writing a song that leaves you feeling completely crushed. His music is meant to be both nakedly honest and cathartic at once, and this is where Skip a Sinking Stone succeeds the most. Despite reminding us of just how fleeting life can be, it also reminds us that seeking out its beauty, regardless of how cruel and unjust it can sometimes be, is worth it in the end.