Album Reviews: Awake Is the New Sleep by Ben LeeTwenty-five-year-old Ben Lee has been a recording artist for over a decade now, so expectations are understandably high every time he releases new material. I’ve had the same reaction to every album: "There are some great songs on here!" And I’m happy to report that this is true yet again on his latest, Awake is the New Sleep. But even at the wise old age of 25, he still suffers the pitfalls of fellow young self-indulgers, Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes). All three are talented singer/songwriters in need of a good editor.
For every ear-catching, wonderful piece of pop he effortlessly throws our way, Lee makes us sift through several brooding, whispering ballads. This wouldn’t be such a problem except that he never allows his album to really pick up momentum. His ballads aren’t especially good or bad, but for the most part they feel like classic album filler. Lee’s catchy upbeat pop/rock is so finely crafted and executed, I’d rather hear 10 songs/30 minutes of it, rather than 14 tracks of alternating tempos.
Having said all of that, I still need to point out that this album is definitely worth your time. The first single, "Catch My Disease," is worth the price of admission. I’d be shocked if it doesn’t receive a little airplay and a snippet in an episode of The O.C. Besides the first single, there are a few other standout anthemic pop songs ("Into the Dark," "Close I’ve Come," "All in This Together") in the vein of Jonathan Richman meets Paul Westerberg.
Awake is the New Sleep is a much better album than the sophomoric title would suggest. Although it does suffer from a few buzz-killing ballads, overall the album is propped up by several very strong single candidates. - Doug Kamin
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