What We’re Hearing: The Sound of the Life of the Mind – Ben Folds Five
Everyone had a soundtrack through their high school and college years. Mine was Ben Folds Five. I remember hearing “Song for the Dumped” for the first time in eighth grade, my friend’s AIM profiles were littered with lyrics from “Evaporated” and “Selfless, Cold and Composed”, and I bought a Big Muff fuzz pedal just ’cause Sledge used one (although it’s in a box somewhere, I still have it).
We got our hearts broken back in 2000 when Ben Folds Five announced their breakup. Last year, we all heard the rumors about their alleged appearance at Bonnaroo. We all hoped it would happen. It did happen. Ben Folds Five reunited after their split more than a decade ago. Note: I know I’m leaving out the one-off performance of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner back in ’08.
The Sound of the Life of the Mind, released just two weeks ago, has spent more time in constant rotation than any record I can remember. I’ll admit, being thirteen years older since the last Ben Folds Five album came out, my tastes have matured (hopefully for the better), and so has the band’s approach to making a record.
>The first track, “Erase Me” is a dark, theatric, and anger-filled breakup song, with production not far from Fold’s earlier work with Amanda Palmer. Once you’re into the second track, “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”, it’s apparent the guys picked up where the sophistication of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner left off.
Just because they’re a few years older doesn’t mean Ben Folds Five can’t live up to their signature quirk and snark. The chorus in “Draw A Crowd” will draw you to laugh out loud, not to mention the distorted vocals and Wurlitzer will make you moderately headbang in approval (at least, that’s what I do at work). “Do It Anyway” is fast-paced, with energy not unlike “Steven’s Last Night In Town”, sans horn section (if you haven’t seen the “Do It Anyway” music video, you’re welcome).
A lot of the reviews of The Sound of the Life of the Mind have spoken of a deep-rooted nostalgia; an escape back to youth. I can’t think of anything that’s further from the truth. The percussive yet melodic piano, biographical lyrics of fictional (?) characters, fuzzy bass, and spot-on harmonies from Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee are just part of the band’s instrumental tool belt. These tracks are deeper than past Ben Folds Five records, but our tastes have also matured with them.