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The Joy of Ben

Indie darling Ben Lee resurfaces with a new album and outlook.

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So what has Lee been up to since the release of his last record? Well, for starters, he made a film in Australia, started his own record label, Ten Fingers Records, and toured incessantly. These days, the Aussie is more interested in discussing his profound passion for music than whether his latest disc, "Awake Is the New Sleep," is or isn't a breakup record. (Lee has brokn up with actress Claire Danes after dating her for several years.)

"I feel like I stepped up to bat with this record," Lee says. "Something clicked in me, and I said, 'I'm done thinking I can be all things to all people.' I'm really going to pursue what I'm convinced is my destiny. I was putting it off. So that changed all kinds of things. I ended a relationship. I started really exploring my spirituality. All these things just flowed from me, saying, 'Let's see how far I can go.'" Where he went was India.

Lee says that after visiting India, he realized he wanted to "be of greater service to [his] fellow human beings," a common emotion he says people often feel after having a baby. "It's just realizing, What am I going to do to make the world a better place?"

The result of his experience is not, however, a CD tinged with sitar pings and mantra-chanting. Rather, it's a collection of brilliantly crafted songs that assuage heartache and prompt toe-tapping and hand-clapping. Fans seem to be thrilled with the record. "From the letters that I've gotten to seeing people crying at shows, it seems like there's something about this music that people are having a very pure, emotional connection with … and it's a really exciting time, to be doing something like that," Lee says. "It's about opening up. Music helps us do that. Artists sometimes have to be the conscience in a world that's gone a bit numb."

Don't expect Lee to assume the role of guru at his live show. Backed by a four-piece band, Lee and company kick out jubilant grooves that he simply calls "some kind of celebration." He says: "I just play songs. Come enjoy the songs. If something else happens … well, I don't want that kind of pressure!"

He adds, jokingly, "Any emotional epiphanies occurring as a result of my music are purely coincidental." S



Ben Lee plays the Canal Club April 23 with Har Mar Superstar and Maria Taylor. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.



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