Phantom Planet and Ben Lee

L.A. power-popsters Phantom Planet and Australian guitar-strummer Ben Lee both know the value of friends in glitzy places: Until recently, PP counted as its drummer actor (and Coppola kin) Jason Schwartzman, hero to brainy misfits everywhere for his portrayal of Rushmore's Max Fischer and most assuredly the reason the band won both of its major-label contracts; Lee, of course, has long received more gossip-column inches for his relationship with actress Claire Danes than for his modestly likable guitar-strumming. Unfortunately, Schwartzman just left the Planet to "pursue other interests"; no word yet if the new guy knows anyone worth mentioning. The band has a new self-titled album (produced, they'll be happy to tell you, by Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev guy Dave Fridmann) due in the new year, but the group also has just reissued last year's surprisingly appealing The Guest, complete with superfluous live tracks and a demo version of the inescapable "California." Lee's got a new record out, too: the appealingly surprising Hey You. Yes You., which he made, he'll be happy to tell you, with Gorillaz/Deltron 3030 guy Dan "the Automator" Nakamura. It probably won't win any admirers not convinced by 1995's endearing Grandpaw Would, and Lee's goofy onstage persona--flanked by a male guitarist and a female keyboard player who look like they stepped off the set of a Volkswagen ad--doesn't do him any favors in his longtime struggle to avoid being confused with homegrown geek-pop wunderkind Ben Kweller, with whom Lee actually shares a side project in the Bens, a not-quite-supergroup that also features grizzled geek-pop vet Ben Folds. But he does still go out with Claire Danes.
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Mikael Wood