Lee's first Ashtray Boy
album, unlike the rest, consisted of one band in one place, namely the Chicago lineup of himself, Niimi and Trumfio. Interestingly, one other member helped out throughout Suite
, namely not-yet-famous Liz Phair
, a year away from her own solo breakthrough. Together the foursome whipped up a gentle delight that set the tone for future Ashtray Boy
efforts, fine if not distinctly unique indie rock that avoided hyperpreciousness thanks to Lee's low-pitched speak-singing and often humorous outlook on love and life. Though sometimes the lyrics aren't the easiest to decipher, all that usually matters is the general vibe, and when things do come clear, it's often pure delight. A good example is the semi-waltz-time "Shirley Maclaine," when in the chorus Lee and Phair sing "Turning on or just tuning out, in a past life we were brussel sprouts." Anything but a novelty song, it's just winsome and fun enough on both hands to work and work well. The album isn't just about clever lyrics, though -- when the group stretches out on the lovely coda to "Observatory Hill," Lee's gently mournful guitar work and the rhythm section's soft propulsion combine beautifully. Niimi's drumming is actually one of the underrated points of Ashtray Boy
; he's not afraid to get in some harder pounding when needed. It's not stomping Zeppelin
bombast or the like, but on numbers like "How Charles Destroyed the Inland Sea," he definitely adds a solid groove where other bands would be more polite. On "Hit," he and Trumfio even kick up a fine R&B/funk snarl. Phair gets in some solo moments to shine, as when she dresses down a creepy if not abusive suitor in "Infidel." Ending with the nice instrumental title track, with some piano as well as everything else, Suite
is a fine starting point.