A chest-pounding drumbeat. An angelic vocal that dispenses one passionate verse after another. Strings that slip through our speakers and wash everything in an endlessly cathartic melody. This is “Lifeline,” the latest single from Philadelphia’s own Mutlu, and it’s got the attention of critics from one coast to the next this summer thanks to its rock-solid rhythm, one of a kind vocal harmonies and supremely inspirational lyrics. “Lifeline” isn’t the most inventive look that we’ve ever seen from Mutlu, and I don’t think that it’s going to provoke a new movement among the American soul underground – but that said, this song has got an unbeatable feel-good energy that you’d be hard-pressed anywhere else this summer. Soul songs have a tendency to draw extreme emotional responses from people, whether they be classics like Otis Redding’s brutally evocative “Pain in My Heart” or modern hits like crossover soul singer Shelita’s self-titled LP, and in this sense, “Lifeline” is really no different. It demands a reaction out of anyone within earshot of its righteous swagger, and while it doesn’t reinvent the Philly soul model, it definitely gives it a postmodern twist that is dazzling to say the least.

There are a lot of styles in play here, and it doesn’t take an advanced degree in the fine arts to pick up on the diversity of Mutlu’s influences in this single at all. The strings are sporting a slight reggae feel, while the poetry occupying the verses is straight out of the conventional folk-rock playbook. Mutlu’s vocal, of course, is as soul-clad as they come, but there’s a decidedly R&B swing to his execution that makes the song feel a lot more authentic and off the cuff than other, similarly stylized material from his closest rivals in the mainstream has in the last couple of years. There’s no debate as to whether or not this guy is a student of American songcraft, but there’s also never a point in “Lifeline” where all of these different elements clash or become fragmented as they would in a halfhearted experimental hybrid. Mutlu knows who he is as an artist, and perhaps more crucially than even that, the precise kind of music that he wants to be known for, which isn’t something that I can say for a lot of the artists in his scene right now.

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After over a decade and a half of critical acclaim and applause from across the underground, Mutlu isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon in his most recent studio effort, which is potentially one of his sleekest and most well-rounded compositions to see widespread, international release in the last five years. “Lifeline” has all of the right ingredients to satisfy listeners who have been craving something a little different in their R&B this season, and if it’s any indication of what we can anticipate hearing in the next few years from this songwriter, then it’s difficult for me to imagine Mutlu remaining a cult favorite for very much longer. His brand is ready to go mainstream, and this single may well be the release to finally get him there.

Michael Rand

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