Release Date: Sep 11, 2015
Record label: New West
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock
Ben Folds is no stranger to collaboration. After his most recent solo album, 2008's Way to Normal, he released 2010's Lonely Avenue, which set English novelist Nick Hornby's lyrics to Folds' music; a quickly generated fundraising record supporting musical opportunities for kids titled Nighty-Night, co-credited to Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, writer Neil Gaiman, and OK Go's Damian Kulash; and his band Ben Folds Five's 2012 reunion LP, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and pursuant live release; not to mention producing stints (such as Sara Bareilles' 2012 EP Once Upon Another Time) and other TV, theater, and music projects. Also no stranger to the classical realm, Folds was a percussion performance major during his time at university, has performed his piano rock songs with various orchestras, and premiered his first piano concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 2014.
Whatever project Ben Folds is pursuing, he’s always easy on the ear. Even his most acerbic social commentaries carry a touch of oddball magic. And so begins the first track on his latest album So There. ‘Capable of Anything’, one of eight chamber rock songs featuring yMusic, a critically acclaimed New York classical sextet, is bold and fanciful.
One of the things that is most interesting about Ben Folds is the experimentalism undertone that connects all of his works. Even though most of his material is rooted in singer-songwriter pop, he finds way to use that as a coating for a more daring chassis. On Lonely Avenue he allowed himself to be a conduit for Nick Hornbyâ€™s brain. Nighty Night was a collaborative EP written and recorded in eight hours.
Ever since he made waves across the alternative rock scene as the leader of Ben Folds Five twenty years ago, North Carolina pianist Ben Folds has reigned as one of the best American singer/songwriters of his generation. Often considered the modern successor to Elton John and Billy Joel, as well as the male counterpart to the equally astonishing Tori Amos, Folds has remained beloved throughout his career because he never fails to fuse impressive musicianship, heartrending vocals, and irresistible melodies into timeless gems. In other words, no one does it like Folds, and on his latest album, So There, he continues to exude modestly reflective and humorous excellence.
So There, Ben Fold's collaborative LP with yMusic (a classical sextet from New York) is poppy, ambitious and bold. Yet despite clocking in at nearly an hour — including a 20-minute-long concerto for piano and orchestra with the Nashville Symphony — the new record feels scarce on songs. It's too bad, because the tracks on which Folds and yMusic pull their collab off with aplomb, like "Capable Of Anything" and "Phone In A Pool," are super hooky and fun; thanks to yMusic's woodwinds, strings and horns add colour and dynamism to Folds' sad, self-deprecating humour and witty piano pop.
Ben FoldsSo There(New West)Rating: 3 out of 5 stars “I’ve stopped caring what you think about me/ I gave up,” laments Ben Folds on “Capable of Anything,” the lead track on his most daring album yet. But for those who felt they had to be on Folds’ bus of snarky, pop/prog geek rock or off it, he now offers another alternative; classical. For the opening eight songs, the Nashville resident and studio owner employs NYC chamber sextet yMusic to accompany another batch of Folds’ by now standard darkly humorous, arch examinations of life through his eternally boyish voice and alternately artsy/plain spoken piano based melodies.
Ben Folds has always had the urge to do something a little out of the conventional album/ tour circuit. So There brings two new approaches: eight chamber-pop songs backed by classical sextet yMusic, and a three-part Concerto For Piano And Orchestra. The songs aren’t a huge departure from Folds’ regular style, with sweet melodies, vocal harmonies and lyrics that switch between the quirky and the emotional.
Looking through the list of musicians who have acted as judges on singing competition shows, Ben Folds’ name sticks out like a sore thumb. While Pharrell and Nicki Minaj have enjoyed critical acclaim as well as massive commercial success, Folds is more of a quirky nostalgia-bomb. His tenure on NBC’s a cappella show The Sing-Off was unexpected (so is the fact that he’s been replaced by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, but we’ll save that for another article), but then again, Folds has always had both a strong, charming voice and a pleasant, affable personality.