The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?

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Offline Kidney05

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #60 on: September 25, 2012, 04:33:59 PM »
you guys have good observations.  it's been a while since I've really been on here frequently but i've enjoyed this thread alot, despite my rambling...
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Offline Playhouse

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #61 on: September 25, 2012, 05:08:36 PM »
I'm not so much in love with any particular song on LOTM as with the general sound and consistency of the album. I think it flows together very nicely, and has that unique "slacker-jazz" sound to it that distinguishes Ben's runs with the Five from his loner years. I think fans have implicitly accepted that Ben's lyrics are not always the most subtle, mature or dignified. This has contributed to a "cheese" factor that has grown pronounced as Ben has aged, in part because its hard for a mid-forty year old guy to sound credible with some of these lyrics (draw a dick on the wall, like a mother, etc.). A decade earlier the same songs would have had a very different vibe. One of the things I like about Songs For Silverman is that Ben actually sounds his age.

Even so, Ben Folds' incorrigible immaturity is appealing in a way, and I think that it brings something unique to this album despite the occasional awkwardness of the lyrics. LOTM is lyrically much more mature than WTN, and I think it is overall a far more appealing listen. I'd rate as Ben's best release since Songs For Silverman. We still don't have the sincerity of Five's work during the 90s, and the lyrics get iffy at times, but I think the album gets a lot of things right. Musically the band takes risks that keep things interesting while not becoming self-indulgent. I really like the chorus of the title track, along with Praytor and Away When You Were Here. Again though, I see LOTM as a successful cohesive album rather than as a collection of great singles. Its very much a team-effort album.

Interesting viewpoint.  I've actually found the album to be more of a collection than a full cohesive work, but that the album in total is still great.  It's not a collection of singles, though, but rather pocketed into specific groups, with "Erase Me" and "On Being Frank" being the odd tracks out.  For me, there feels like a cohesive triptych with Michael Praytor-Sky High-TSOTLOTM.  Next, there's a solid tandem with "Crowd" and "DIA".  And finally, the last third of the album seems to live and breathe more on its own from the rest of the album.

That said, I'd have to agree that these "pockets" or natural segments do still flow together well on the whole.  It doesn't feel as unified as an album as WAEA or TUBORM do but it does have a distinct sound and flavor to it.  I do like the distinct feel that, some of the lyrics aside, it does feel like the guys have grown.  Some might bemoan that and that they don't have the same anarchic energy that comes with youth.  Personally, I like that they've come back so strong and this bodes well for what they can explore in the future.
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Offline Kidney05

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #62 on: September 26, 2012, 07:36:15 PM »
props to LucasG for "slacker jazz", such an appropriate description
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Offline pano

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #63 on: September 27, 2012, 12:21:36 AM »
So here's my first thoughts on the record. Nice to see so many ... err.. avatars back here, btw:

To me, there are very good and some quite bad moments on there. I didn't shed no tears for the sound of the good ol' days: It's right that they did not try to be their best 1990's imitation, in a way that SfS was a good mature album, as someone said above. My initial likes are the title track (the background vocal response in the chorus alone makes may day: Noooisy up theeeeere, so classic) and Do It Anyway, despite the southern feel.

Things that puzzle me:
- all that fake falsetto singing: Erase Me and Praytor might have become good songs, if only i could be able to actaully listen to them...
- the missing edge of the record, compared to earlier ones: We've talked about Ben's piano style a lot, but for me it is the drum track that is much more soft and 'standard pop'ish than what Darren is capable of. I'm not an expert, I would like to hear what others think of that?

the funny thing about these records-- I may talk smack on certain tracks, etc... but continue listening... until they win me over... in a way...

That's what I am wondering about: SfS was the last album I truly came to love. WtN, FA, I heard these ten times each, max, and felt I was through with them. Maybe age is eating away my enthusiasm? :)

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Offline pano

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #64 on: September 27, 2012, 12:24:00 AM »
Oh, my favourite track isn't even on the album: I'm a HUGE fan of 'House'

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Offline Brian Golley

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #65 on: September 27, 2012, 03:33:25 AM »
Hello fellow Burbians, it has been a long time since I have posted on these boards, though I do lurk frequently, particularly around the time of new releases. I just wanted to put my two cents in about the album, and his last few albums for the matter.

I think I'll start with Way To Normal, because the most surprising thing that I have found in the all of fan feedback of the new record is how much WTN is getting trashed. I think the album is very different aesthetically to anything Ben had done previously - I remember a critic at the time describing it as decidedly "lo-fi" and I agree. The production had some quirks that we aren't used to seeing in Ben's sensibility as well, the weird way his voice sounds in Dr Yang ("hey"), the live audience in Hiroshima, the spoken word intro to "Bitch Went Nuts" etc. I don't necessarily love this aspect of the record, but I do think it is really underrated because the songs are f*cking top notch. Here's my track break down:

Hiroshima - Catchy song. Obviously very polarising due to the lyrics, and I was at first alienated because of them. I remember how jarring the song sounded to listen to. After coming to understand the song intellectually (the song coming to represent public embarrassment) I like it. The lyrics are intentionally very literal and well, kind of ugly, because the song is representing an ugly experience. One of the things I most admire about Ben as an artist is that he is willing to take these sorts of risks with form, and doesn't get too precious. I know understanding the song on an intellectual level doesn't necessarily make for a nice listening experience, but personally I can dig this one.  
Dr Yang - Again catchy enough song, but doesn't particularly grab me.
Frown Song - I really like this song, especially the way the chords move from the verse to the chorus and back again. Lyrically, I can see how this song comes off a little preachy but I think it works OK. I love the cheesy bridge. The BV's on this song bug me a bit (the dah dah dahhs at the end of the chorus) - I just wish they were recorded more cleanly
You Don't Know Me - Great song, what else can you say? Just a great f*cking pop song. I think, again, maybe the production on this one has the potential to put people off, fake piano, drums and strings. I think the simplicity and arrangement of the song works well.
Cologne - One of Ben's strongest ballads.
Errant Dog - I can see how this song just gets classed as an album filler, it's a fairly run of the mill up tempo song, with kinda silly lyrics. While I think it's a fairly one dimensional kind of song I really like it, not every song for me has to be really intricate musically or need to have heavy/clever lyrics embedded in every line. This song just has a nice, fun vibe.
Free Coffee - I can't really listen to this. The piano effect just grates on me. I saw Ben a really sparse version of this during a solo show at the Opera House a few years ago and it really brought out the beauty in the song. It was really great, I wish there was a recorded version of this in existence.
Bitch Went Nuts - One of Ben's catchiest songs I think. It's a really strong idea, brought out even more (though I'm not crazy about it) the spoken word intro. The earnestness of "the bitch went nutz y'all, but everyone said she might. Ahh, holy f*cking shit" gets me everytime.
Brainwashed - As good/catchy as anything Ben has ever written. The song just bounds along on that piano riff and the lyrics are simplistic and strong. This song is even better if you know the Fleming and John song that it is in reference to.
Effington - Again, as good/catchy as anything Ben has ever written. Gorgeous melody, particularly the chorus hook/middle 8. I think the movie score theme works really well also, down to the smaller details, like the melodic flourish at the end of the chorus.
Kylie From Connecticut - This song continues to be a bit hit and miss for me. I doesn't entirely grab me, but I appreciate in that it's well crafted lyrically. I like how the instrumental section builds.

One of the things that stands out about WTN, is that it doesn't have a very "live" feel to it. I'm not sure if it was tracked or not. Rockin' The Suburbs obviously was, but all of the Five stuff, Songs For Silverman and Lonely Avenue were all recorded live, and for me it makes such an impact on how the records sound. I don't mind that WTN doesn't have a particularly "live" feel to it, but again, maybe this is something that has put fans off the record.

Finally, I think this record was not helped at all by the fact that its release coincided with Ben's divorce going public and Frally releasing an album. I give most people credit enough to distinguish between an artist and their work, but I do concede that there will always been some interest and speculation behind the origin of songs and their possible literal options. Randy Newman, for example, writes songs in an incredibly distinct style, from really acute character perspectives. While Ben is clearly a character writer also, he does straddle the fence a bit more and is at times personal. The fact that a couple of sh*tty journalists working for a couple of sh*tty publications took a couple of titles of his songs and extrapolated literal interpretations, mixed in with some sensationalist bullshit regarding the divorce, was a real shame.

Now, onto the new record. I like it more and more with each listen. I guess my first impressions of the record were that it was a bit of a let down, given that it was so highly anticipated (being a reunion record and the fact that Ben himself had talked it up quite a bit) but as I continue to listen to the record and allow it to breathe I see it as a really great, fresh record.

Erase Me - I just couldn't get into Erase Me at first, as other people here have noted, the constant modulation was a little alienating and I didn't really care the kookiness of it. Now I love it, especially the Queen-esque stacked vocal harmonies on particular rhythmic accents. I also love the lyrics, in particular "new bio, you've gone solo" which I can't help but construe as a little nod to the band's breakup. Love the piano solo at the end, great raucous energy from the whole band.
Michael Praytor - How can you not just love this song? Enough said.
Sky High - Really like this one. I was a little disappointed initially because it wasn't exactly what I expected after hearing the snippet in the Pledge video. Difficult to express exactly how; I found the the phrasing of "under the blue sky" a little awkward, and the song not following a conventional verse chorus structure. After I got passed this I really like it, just find the vocals tacked on the end a little of the top.
Sound - This track is a bit of a skipper for me, I like it more now than at first. I find the lyrics a little harder to get into, "rocks like a mother" grates on me a little. Having said that, so did "hope is a bastard..." and now I think they are great lyrics, so who knows with more listenings.
On Being Frank - This song is another skipper for me, I can't really get into it. Darren's c*cktail swing beat at the closer cracks me up every time.
Draw A Crowd - The chorus for this song grates on me a little. Specifically the first "ohh ohh" vocal harmonies. It just falls a little flat for me. I find it so weird to hear the rhodes, bass, drums combo during the verses, for some reason I just can't accustom myself to do it.
Do It Anyway - This fell a little flat for me when the boys leaked it. Now I have come to really like it. The performance is loose in the best way possible. I find there's always a little bit of an adjustment you have to make when listening to one of Ben's advice songs. I found Learn to Live a little grating at first and now I love it.
Hold That Thought - I can't really get into this one. I think it was Kidney that pointed out the organ and I have to agree, just in the fact that it's mixed really poorly. At 1:16 when there's a middle register chord, ergh, it sounds really ugly to my ears. A small detail maybe, it just grates on me. This song feels a little disjointed as well, the pink floyd vocal harmonies don't really sit well with me.
Away When You Were Here - One of my favourites on the record, it really is a stand out track for me. Nothing particularly groundbreaking, it's just a middle of the road song, only that it's so well written and recorded. I think Ben is really great in this territory of songwriting, Judy is another absolute favourite of mine.
Breaking My Heart - This is growing on me more and more with each listen, though I don't think that it will ever be a stand out favourite for me.

There we go. I generally don't like this method of breaking down albums and reviewing track by track, it's just been the easiest way to get my thoughts down. What else? I really hope they make another record together, I'm interested to here the jazzy stuff that Ben alluded to. I see all of Ben's albums (with and without the five) as being really distinct from each other, and this is something I really admire in Ben as an artist, and I think this record is an example of that natural progression and growth.






Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #66 on: September 27, 2012, 06:54:36 AM »
In regard to Erase Me and Praytor, I agree that the falsetto is a bit offputting.  For me the backing vocals, including the middle portion of Erase Me, make those songs listenable.

I'm not sure the lyric is "you've gone solo, drawing mustaches on our wedding photo"...seems to me it could just as well be "you've gone so low, drawing mustaches on our wedding photo"

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Offline Kidney05

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #67 on: September 27, 2012, 07:24:29 PM »
@pano:
yeah, i could hear what you mean on darren's drumming, but I don't know if it's his fault.  I think the type of songs they are don't always lend to the heaviest and flashiest of drumming.  it could also be a mix issue too-- when I listen to the individual beats, they're always fitting, and the fills are good... but it's just the context of them.

@brian golley:
we seem to share alot of the same sentiments on the new album.  Do it Anyway has become a recent favorite... i like the advice of the song, the energy, and the piano work is awesome.  but damn the organ in hold that thought.  it's such a deal breaker. 
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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #68 on: September 27, 2012, 07:46:27 PM »
In regard to Erase Me and Praytor, I agree that the falsetto is a bit offputting.  For me the backing vocals, including the middle portion of Erase Me, make those songs listenable.

I'm not sure the lyric is "you've gone solo, drawing mustaches on our wedding photo"...seems to me it could just as well be "you've gone so low, drawing mustaches on our wedding photo"

I'm wondering if the falsetto thing is Ben not being able to sing what he's writing anymore. There was some obvious vocal strain on some of his recent solo records. Maybe he decided that a smooth falsetto is better than struggling with a high note?

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Offline LucasG

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #69 on: September 28, 2012, 08:38:47 AM »
When Ben was promoting the a cappella album, I recall him saying that he sometimes thinks of his songs more as demos for others to sing than as final recordings in themselves. This probably reflects some insecurity on his part as to his vocal abilities, especially post-piano tours. Folds, especially these days, has a very "conversational" way of singing that can be grating when it gets high, and I think Ben of all people is aware of this. The reversion to falsetto doesn't bother me that much all things considered. Ben is in his mid-40s at this point, and for all his voice has been through I think he has managed to maintain a mastery of it. Its not what it used to be, but its a tool that can still get the job done.
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Offline Kyle

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #70 on: September 28, 2012, 10:48:43 AM »
Ben tours an awful lot.  It's a reality of making money in the industry these days.  However, touring and signing that much can't be good for your vocal chords.

Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #71 on: September 28, 2012, 03:34:26 PM »
When Ben was promoting the a cappella album, I recall him saying that he sometimes thinks of his songs more as demos for others to sing than as final recordings in themselves. This probably reflects some insecurity on his part as to his vocal abilities, especially post-piano tours. Folds, especially these days, has a very "conversational" way of singing that can be grating when it gets high, and I think Ben of all people is aware of this. The reversion to falsetto doesn't bother me that much all things considered. Ben is in his mid-40s at this point, and for all his voice has been through I think he has managed to maintain a mastery of it. Its not what it used to be, but its a tool that can still get the job done.

you put it into words better than I could.

I remember Ben saying that he didn't consider himself a singer even back in the early days of his career. What I admire about him is how he isn't using the studio to cover up his flaws. He isn't cheating or hiding behind technology. His songwriting and piano playing well makes up for it anyways.

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Offline LucasG

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #72 on: September 28, 2012, 04:46:03 PM »
In some ways I would compare Ben Folds to Bob Dylan in this area. Both artists have unusual voices that have weakened over time, but this has never stopped them from putting out quality material. Dylan's calloused and aging voice, especially starting in the 80s and 90s, was off-putting for a lot of people. Yet when you listen to covers of Dylan's music even from this period, it reminds you how good and enduring his songwriting is.

Here's an example:

Original
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI4UdNPPg78

Cat Power
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY6_iBLegzY

I'm not saying Ben and Bob are similar in many respects, but in the area of contrasting songwriting and vocal ability I think they have some kinship.
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Offline Playhouse

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #73 on: September 28, 2012, 07:12:40 PM »
I'm not sure the lyric is "you've gone solo, drawing mustaches on our wedding photo"...seems to me it could just as well be "you've gone so low, drawing mustaches on our wedding photo"

"Solo" seems more appropriate given the context of the song.  It also appears to be the lyric that appears in the booklet that comes with the Japanese release of the album.
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Offline Playhouse

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Re: The Sound of the Life of the Mind - What do you think?
« Reply #74 on: September 28, 2012, 07:15:21 PM »
In some ways I would compare Ben Folds to Bob Dylan in this area. Both artists have unusual voices that have weakened over time, but this has never stopped them from putting out quality material. Dylan's calloused and aging voice, especially starting in the 80s and 90s, was off-putting for a lot of people. Yet when you listen to covers of Dylan's music even from this period, it reminds you how good and enduring his songwriting is.

Here's an example:

Original
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI4UdNPPg78

Cat Power
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY6_iBLegzY

I'm not saying Ben and Bob are similar in many respects, but in the area of contrasting songwriting and vocal ability I think they have some kinship.


I'd say that's a fair and astute comparison, Lucas.
A one-hit wonder with no hits...

Hey, that's Oh-Ned-Er!