Deeper Into Dream
[Rating: 4 stars]
For his eighth album, singer-songwriter Ben Lee, inspired by his work with the late psychotherapist Jan Lloyd, turned to his subconscious for material, and made the record himself (his first outing as a producer) in his Laurel Canyon home studio. If this preamble has listeners heading for the exit on the grounds of “insufferable solo artist narcissism,” they’d be reassured to know that Lee’s amiability, charm, and solid folk-pop instincts counterbalance the potential solipsism of the set-up.
The set of 12 tunes explores the flight of ideas and revelations available to people in their dreams, with lyrics that make continuous reference to nocturnal imaginings. Three tracks feature snippets of interviews with friends and family describing their dreams. The Freudian abstraction and occasional darkness of the lyrics are leavened by accessible, floaty melodies (“Glue,” “Dirty”), shimmering harmonies, and euphonious arrangements. As he has on his last few albums, Lee veers mainly between cheerfully meandering pop tunes (“Pointless Beauty”) and majestic piano ballads (“Deeper Into Dream,” “Lean Into It”). The latter’s atmospheric production not only reflects the fantastical bent of the words and escalates the drama of the song, but also hints at Lee’s burgeoning studio skills. “Get Used to It” has a more ambitious scope than the rest of the songs, with tempo changes and a cavernous, pure-pop sound.
Fans of Lee’s scruffier indie-rock side may favor the relatively more rocking “The Church of Everyone Else,” a hotbed of potent hooks and one of the few tracks that makes central use of electric guitars. Another stand-out is “When The Light Goes Out,” a soaring synth-rocker on which Lee tries on a smooth Bryan Ferry croon.
Marriage, fatherhood, L.A., and devotion to Sri Sakthi Narayani Amma may have mellowed the former Noise Addict leader, but Lee continues to release engaging, if slightly more introspective, work.