Whoa is Ben Lee
by Matthue Roth
“Awake is the new sleep,” Ben Lee whisper-sings repeatedly in the denouement of “Whatever It Is,” the first song on the album of the same title. It might be his thesis statement, or it might be a subtle commentary on the anti-folk craze that’s sweeping indie rock currently—whether it’s the emo-but-not angst of Dashboard Confessional, the electronic retro-80s whispery love songs from Postal Service and the Parlor Scouts, or Elliot Smith, who just knew how to play an acoustic guitar like no one else ever has—but Lee has a solid hand in light pop that’s devoid of irony, earnest, and unabashedly sweet.
But really, Ben Lee isn’t doing anything crazy or theoretical. He’s a bona fide lo-fi mastermind, and this album is just a new set of his dreamy California acoustic-pop mini-masterpieces. From the toy piano and subtly distorted electric-guitar landscapes on “Whatever It Is” to the earnest lyrics and reggae of “Gamble Everything for Love” and the ten-minute epic “Light,” Lee has his hands firmly on his pop hooks and clever choruses. And that’s just fine.