Ashtray Boy - The Honeymoon Suite (Feel Good All Over, 1993)
The Honeymoon Suite
CD Feel Good All Over FGAO 20 (USA, 1993)
01. Ananda Marga
02. Shirley Maclaine
03. Observatory Hill
04. There Is a Fountain
05. Time for a Baby
06. How Charles Destroyed the Inland Sea
08. Little Nature Child
10. Love in a Bakery
11. The Honeymoon Suite
Note : Ashtray Boy is two indie-pop bands in one: the first existed in Chicago, the other — simultaneously — in Sydney, Australia. Both were led by vocalist Randall Lee, formerly of the Cannanes and Nice; after the latter's 1993 demise, Lee began splitting his time between his native Australia and the U.S., and the first Ashtray Boy line-up formed was the American version, rounded out by future Pulsars member Dave Trumfio and drummer Justin Niimi. Their 1993 full-length The Honeymoon Suite (featuring backing vocals from Liz Phair) was the first release issued under the name, while 1994's Macho Champions featured material from the Chicago unit as well as the Sydney group, which also featured bassist Thomas Tallis and drummer Neil Johnston. Candypants Beach, issued the following year, and 1996's The Everyman's 4th Dimension were also joint ventures from both Ashtray Boy rosters. In 2002, Lee left Australia for Vancouver B.C., where he set about putting together a Canadian line-up as well.
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.