Posts tagged Ben Folds
Posts tagged Ben Folds
Ben Folds really wanted to go and make me feel like an old fucking man today when he posted this photo of him walking in Tokyo with his kids. His teenage twins that I specifically remember being born when I was in fucking high school. Thanks a lot, Ben.
P.S. - JK, love you guys. Super cute family.
If the next song is Ben Folds’ “Jesusland,” I’ma have a fit.
If TLC’s “Diggin’ on You” reminds me most of being twelve and in middle school, then Ben Folds Five’s “Where’s Summer B.?” reminds me most of being seventeen and in high school. I had a ‘92 Ford Taurus with a six-disc CD changer in the trunk and Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut album was on a constant repeat. The album was played, on average, about three to four times per week for a two year period and, as a result, has probably shaped my taste in music more than any other record.
“Where’s Summer B.?” is one of the many gems on the album. The piano and distorted bass dive home the heavy quarter note feel of the song. Beats one and two are emphasized heavily, sometimes just by the drums and bass during the verse, and other times by the whole band like during the break. The bassline, while relatively simple, is killer. It’s the perfect example of why distorted bass worked so well in this band that consciously avoided guitar. It’s unique, catchy, and doesn’t distract from the song. The vocal harmonies are something special, as well. I love the way they hang on to that suspension during the second bar of the chorus. Ben Folds Five always had very tight harmonies, even live.
For the most part, the piano is pretty simple on this tune but it wouldn’t be a Ben Folds song if not for at least a little bit of piano pizazz. There are still little bits of flash interjected into the tune such as the syncopation during the chorus and the solo during the break.
There’s nothing particularly flashy about this track like say, “Philosophy” or “The Last Polka” from the same record, but all the individual elements that make up the song fit together in such a perfect way that it almost surpasses those tunes. In this world of marketing, hype, and mediocre songwriting, it’s nice to hear extremely capable musicians hold back for the sake of the song.
Still as true as it ever was.
A screenshot of the secret message hidden in Ben Folds’ “Rockin’ the Suburbs” video.
Today, everyone is going to post their sad memories of September 11th, 2001. While that day did turn out to be awful, I woke up that morning feeling really good because that was a day that I had been looking forward to for a number of months: The release of Ben Folds’ first solo album after the break-up of Ben Folds Five, Rockin’ the Suburbs.
I was a senior in high school in Everett, WA. I had zero period at 7am so I woke up at 5:30am (8:30am ET) to get ready for the day. The attacks were still about fifteen minutes away at that point. As I woke up and showered, I started thinking about how as soon as I got out of school that day, I would drive to the mall and pick up Rockin’ the Suburbs and listen to it on repeat for a few hours. I learned of the attacks as soon as I turned on my car and the radio came on, which was around 6:45am PT. The rest of the school day was a bit of a haze of watching the news online as it happened, class discussions with teachers about how we felt about all this, and just an all around feeling of helplessness.
When school finally let out, I was still determined to pick up Rockin’ the Suburbs. My first stop was the Everett Mall which turned out to be completely shut down. There was a sign on the door informing us that the mall was closed as a precaution due to the attacks. I decided to try the next closest mall, the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, WA. With the mall off to my right, I looked to my left and saw a Target filled with cars and I decided to go in there give it a try because I could at least see that it was open from there. I found the album, and I was so happy that, for at least a short amount of time, I could let the awful things I’d seen and heard that day go and just be happy that Rockin’ the Suburbs was finally in my hands.
And that leads me to the recording I’m posting for the day in “Annie Waits.” It was the first tune I heard as I popped the disc into my car’s CD player and started driving home. I remember really enjoying when, at the end of the first verse, it was just Folds’ voice and a drum machine before all the instruments came crashing in together. I love how the chord progression is slightly altered during the ninth bar of the second verse in order to give it a slightly different feel than the first verse. The bridge at 1:19 is alright as it serves its purpose of being different from the rest of the song, but it’s pretty weak as compared to the section that comes right after it at 1:49, which is the best part of the song. It really sounds like a true chorus, but then it tails off into a soft piano-fueled interlude. The rest of the song just repeats some of the themes we’ve heard up to this point.
Overall, I’d say it’s a good song. Not the best on the album, but good. I was never really a fan of the synth bass sound that comes in as the verse returns. That was probably my biggest gripe with the Rockin’ the Suburbs album: There was sure a lot of synthetic instrumentation coming from a guy that I had known, up to that point, to be very anti-synthetic instrumentation to the point of carting around a baby grand piano in a U-Haul from show to show as a small unsigned band because he thought that the more portable electric pianos sounded too fake.
I was so euphoric about finally picking up the album that when it came to a close, I thought it was one of the best albums ever. In retrospect, it doesn’t hold a candle to Folds’ work in Ben Folds Five, but it’s a decent album that was, perhaps, nerfed a bit for me because I listened to it (As well as other Folds related albums) constantly that year.
I have a long history of loving piano-based pop music. From my earliest memories of listening to Billy Joel and Elton John on road trips with my parents to my high school years of worshiping Ben Folds Five, piano-based pop never seems to fail me. Considering all this, it’s amazing how long Todd Rundgren was off my radar. I didn’t even learn who he was until I was a freshman in college. But believe me, it was love at first listen.
Something/Anything? is a rock/pop masterpiece. I’ve talked before about how much I love it when artists can convincingly do any genre, and that’s one of the main reasons I love Rundgren so much. His catalog of tunes is so diverse and he even has the gall to play every instrument on the first eighteen tracks of this double album. It’s just unfair.
My favorite song on the album is “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference.” It’s like an etude in the way that it repeatedly works one specific issue. In this case, non-harmonic bass notes often used as pedal points as chords move over the top of them. The trick of this is that the chords always immediately resolve to where they should: Where the bass note already is. It’s a push and pull effect, creating dissonance and then resolving, only to do it again on the next set of chords.
Of course, Rundgren has a natural gift for melody. The last bar before the chorus breaks the pattern of a chord resolving to the previously non-harmonic bass note by throwing in a straight up D - Em - D progression which doesn’t belong in the key of A. But the way Rundgren’s melody leaps up and carries us through that passage makes it barely even register as something outside of the home key. I love the light background vocals and how they are always varied throughout the tune — Sometimes as “Ooo,” sometimes as full lyric harmonies. Sometimes two voices, sometimes three voices.
It’s just really well done all around. One of the best pop songs I know.
(Originally written Tuesday June 23rd, 2009)
I got hardcore into Ben Folds Five about two months before they broke up. So then I was all bummed, but at least Ben Folds was going to continue on in a solo career, and since he was the songwriter and biggest driving musical force, I figured it would be fine. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Folds’ solo material isn’t bad, it’s just not nearly as good as the stuff with the Five, for the most part. There are some exceptions, of course, that rank with the best he’s ever done. I hadn’t listened to Ben Folds in a long time and today I decided to give it another shot. After reviewing the albums, EPs, and whatnot, these are the top five songs Ben Folds has written since the end of Ben Folds Five. Obviously, songs he wrote LONG ago before Ben Folds Five are out, such as “Dog” & “Kalamazoo,” the latter being his best solo song, period.
5. Sentimental Guy
Just a great chord progression. Simple staccato piano intro, great melody. Just a really understated song that would’ve made a great album closer, but unfortunately it wasn’t and there were two crappier songs right after it to close out the album, burying this one near the end.
4. Learn To Live With What You Are
The strings are perfect, adding just the right amount of padding to the sound to make it sweet but not ridiculously saccharine. The bridge in this song is really what drives this tune home though. The song up to the bridge is really good, a really awesome chord progression and a solid melody and all. But then when the band and the strings vamp on an E for a few bars before leading us into the bridge, it all ties together, especially at the end of the bridge’s first line “Stickin’ out it’s tongue and laughin’ while…” before leading us back into the chorus, this time a WHOLE step up rather than a half step like other (more bland) pop songs would’ve done. Okay, so maybe it doesn’t make all THAT much of a difference, but it’s a great song.
3. All U Can Eat
Ignoring the ridiculous spelling of You as U à la Prince, this is a solid song despite being very preachy. The lyrics are poignant, while still hilarious. A very hard task to accomplish. The imagery in the last verse is spot on. Once again, the staccato piano makes up the bulk of the accompaniment of song which lets you focus on the lyrics more easily. The piano solo really does wonders for the tune as well. That’s another big problem with Ben Folds’ solo material, he doesn’t solo much anymore. I remember buying Rockin’ The Suburbs on the first day it came out in 2001 and listening through the whole album and only hearing ONE piano solo, and it was the second to last song (“Fired”). Folds is a talented soloist, I don’t know why he doesn’t exploit this much anymore.
2. Still (Reprise)
This one’s the real shocker of the list, I think. This was written for the soundtrack of the movie Over The Hedge. I remember first hearing about this at Folds’ concert at the Kibbie Dome back in ‘06. He mentioned he was doing the music for an animated movie and he didn’t know the name of it. That didn’t exactly instill high hopes in me. HOWEVER, when I finally heard the full version of the song released on Supersunnyspeedgraphic, The LP (a compilation of the three EPs released he’d released over the past few years, as well as “Still”), I was blown away! It’s another song that starts out really simple, just drums and piano. Shortly after, the strings and bass are added for that aural padding again. I don’t use the term “padding” as a bad thing, I just mean it as a way to add a little something to the sound, like when the low strings double the electric bass line in the second verse. The thing that really makes this song stand out is how it starts out so simple, and then slowly builds up by the end of the second chorus, then pulls back again to just piano and drums, but then all the instruments kick back in and start building up again! It just makes you think something special is about to happen by building you up and then pulling back again repeatedly. At about the 4:14 mark in the song, it pulls back AGAIN, taking it down to just one piano chord held out per bar with the drums just doing a stick click on the rim on all the eighth notes while Folds sings “Even the things that seem still are still changing” over and over again, each phrase being repeated in an echo after it’s sung in the background. The real kicker in this part is the unexpected sporadic electric bass part played high up with a pick to give it a really distinctive, pointed sound, just like The Beach Boys did on Pet Sounds. Finally, this continues for a while until it builds up again to a point where the entire band + strings kick in hard, the electric bass goes into that classic Ben Folds Five distortion, and rocks out hard to the end, messing around with the feel of the meter by emphasizing the 1 & 3 in 6/8 time rather than the 1 & 4, giving a hemiola effect.
I sorta wrote this song off because when I bought the album Songs For Silverman, I listened to it maybe twice and then just put it away for a long time. I didn’t think it was bad really, it’s just that about half the songs were really average. Other singer/songwriters would KILL to have songs that mediocre, but I just wanted more from Ben Folds. About six months after I put the album away, I went online and listened to some of the songs that were released as singles, and “Bastard” stood out like a sore thumb. It’s classic, witty Ben Folds poking fun at the people who really deserve it, smart-ass young people/hipsters. He points out that someday, you’re going to grow up and realize you’re an idiot. That, I believe, is true wisdom. Realizing that for all your twenty some odd years of life, you’re actually a moron who knows very little about anything. Folds employs the staccato piano intro again, but this time he uses it as a way to mess with the meter throughout the entire song. You have to listen to the song intently to really figure out the rhyme & reason to the meter changes (switching between 6/4 and 7/4 before finally heading into 4/4 right before the chorus). After the second chorus, Folds employs a layering vocal thing that he seems to love to death since he went solo, and it’s always solid. Seriously though, there are like, five songs on Songs For Silverman that use this same effect. At the end of the third chorus, the band busts into a rocking coda in 5/4, driven heavily by distorted electric bass. The distorted electric bass is as essential to the classic Ben Folds sound as piano! Then Ben takes us out with a little bluesy piano solo over the top of the 5/4 vamp. Totally solid.