Ben Lee: Deeper Into Dream

You could call the latest album from the former wunderkind a "concept album", but that's meeting it more than halfway.

Ben Lee

Deeper Into Dream

Label: Dangerbird
US Release Date: 2011-10-11
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

Ben Lee's new album Deeper Into Dream starts with a spoken-word track that seems to establish just how literally we'll be venturing "into dream" over the next 45 minutes. Various voices, mostly Australian, reveal the content of their dreams, both mundane and fantastical. And on the title track that follows, Lee offers up a kind of mission statement: "Have you ever woken from a dream and convinced yourself you remember it / In the morning?" Setting an album up like this, as if to say, "Hey, guys, we're heading into concept album territory here", is a great little technique -- see Janelle Monae's stunning treatment of The ArchAndroid of yesteryear -- but only if you actually follow through with a concept album.

Instead, what we get is an album that sounds unsure how fully it should commit itself to its concept. The opening dream confessional is repeated twice more, and there are songs with titles like "When the Light Goes Out" and "I Want My Mind Back", but Lee never quite follows through on that initial pact he makes with the listener. Instead of wild dreamscapes, fantasies, nightmares, or even aspirations (which, of course, is a different sort of dream), Deeper Into Dream mostly deals in straightforward indie pop-rock shorthand. Everything's inflected with the little smidgens of goofiness that Ben Lee's been mining for years, but the vibe of this album is more sleepy than dreamy.

The dreamiest Lee gets is on "Lean Into It", a thrumming, woozy song with piano and strings buried beneath waves of ambiance. The soundscape is beautiful, but Lee squanders it by aimlessly stumbling his way through lots of vague quasi-epiphanies like "Love is big and what is love? / Is it from above or from below?" Lee doesn't have a big, impressive voice, and it's probably best-suited to quiet, simple songs like this, but when it's coupled with weak lyrics, the results are enervating. He does dreamy better on the late-album track "I Want My Mind Back", where the oft-repeated chorus "I want my mind back" becomes a dogged mantra against a surreal backdrop, but it's a shame he doesn't get to that place more often.

Everywhere else, Lee is up to his old tricks. The songs that hew closest to his bread and butter -- catchy, offbeat, slight -- are his best, even if they do even less to service the notion that Deeper Into Dream has a great deal of cohesive structure. The one-two punch of "Indian Myna" and "Pointless Beauty" amps up the energy considerably, the former with sheer fun, the latter with a soaring, anthemic Coldplay-lite chorus. Neither of them have anything to do with dreams, really, although I guess you could argue that "Indian Myna" is an attempt to relate the disjointed, nonsensical narrative of a dream.

The second half of the album is more of the same by-the-numbers indie pop, with the exception of "I Want My Mind Back", and you've heard every one of these songs before; there's the song that could be on the Garden State soundtrack, the smoldering break-up song, the Killers song. And then there's "Dirty", the closer, which explains that "It's not above, what we call love; / It's in the mud, so get your hands dirty". Set side-by-side with another dream confessional, it's supposed to be the conclusion reached at the end of a journey, but there's no sense that the conclusion means anything, or that you've even taken a journey. Like the rest of Deeper Into Dream, it sounds nice enough in soft focus, but falls apart a bit when you really pay attention.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.