What’s this? Ben Folds Five has released a new album? Didn’t they break up over ten years ago? This is very true – the band parted ways in 2000 after the release of their third and (supposedly) final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, in 1999. After a twelve year hiatus, however, they rekindled the old flame and released The Sound of the Life of the Mind in September 2012. For any and all fans of Ben Folds Five and/or Ben Folds’s solo work, this new album definitely lives up to the hype. It sounds as though nothing was lost in those twelve long years of the band’s inactivity, and that they simply picked it up right where they left off. This is definitely no small feat, especially given the large quantity of older bands that still struggle on despite having outlived their bygone golden ages.
As a singer/songwriter, Ben Folds has always stood out from the ocean of starry-eyed, mediocre talent present in the industry today. Folds succeeds in writing truly unique music both instrumentally and lyrically, which leads to an extremely entertaining and original listening experience. The lyrics are comical and informal; a refreshing change from the deadly serious subject matter prevalent in a large portion of singer/songwriter music. Lines such as “If you’re feeling small, and you can’t draw a crowd, draw dicks on the wall” make it known that the band has retained their particular brand of wit over the years. This album is perfect for the times when you’re simply looking for a light-hearted, energetic soundtrack to your day.
Let’s not forget about the messy-yet-somehow-awesome piano skills that have always been a distinguishing feature for Ben Folds. Those who have followed his career for some time may know that he spent much of his early years as a drummer, either working as a session musician in Nashville or attending the University of Miami with a percussion scholarship. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how he has such a uniquely percussive style of playing the piano. When it comes to the keys, he is predominantly self-taught, and it shows in the music he writes. This is not a bad thing by any means; I would suggest that he is much more adventurous as a pianist because he was not formally taught to follow any specific precedent. His style is spunky and unafraid of dissonance, using it to his advantage instead.
Kicking off with the energetic “Erase Me,” The Sound of the Life of the Mind is a collection of songs that brings the musical spirit of the group alive yet again. “Draw a Crowd” and “Do It Anyway” are reminiscent of a homey, American heartland rock vibe, while “Sky High,” written by Darren Jessee, the band’s drummer, and “On Being Frank” are ballads on the softer side of the spectrum, rounding out the album.
Although he has gotten much more popular in recent years, Folds shows no signs of submitting to any other agenda than his own. The music on this album is fresh, original, and mildly immature, and it is exactly what he wanted, and exactly what we were looking for.