Artist: Ben Folds
Album: So There
Release Date: September 11, 2015 (New West Records)
Buzz factor: 3.5/5
Ben Folds, the former frontman of Ben Folds Five and the director of the label New West Records, released his new album So There on September 11, 2015. This album, the first released on Folds’ label, is actually two-in-one: the first half features eight “chamber pop” songs recorded with the classical ensemble yMusic, and the second half features Folds’ Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, performed by the Nashville Symphony.
So There appears to tell the story of a broken relationship. Ben Folds followed his usual habits in that the lyrics have a generally negative feel; only one song, “I’m Not the Man,” showing a slightly optimistic view with the lyrics, “A new day, a new town/ Your racehorse, your cash cow.” The first track, “Capable of Anything,” tells of accusations and insults, all the usual features of the immediate aftermath of a relationship. In another track, “Yes Man,” the protagonist of the song ruminates on the past and all the red flags that were missed by the couple while they were together: “And in that time, I’d forgotten why/ I couldn’t tell you why I was mad/ So I held it in and you kept it back/ Every picture that I click/ And drag/ It’s obvious.”
Still, despite the negative lyrics, the album is far from depressing. The chamber orchestra in the background plays music that can only be described as jaunty and uplifting throughout most of the album. The piano dances with the flute, while the strings make up the background.
The crowning glory of So There is the “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” which makes up the last three tracks of the album. The orchestral tutti at the beginning brings to mind Charles Ives and George Gershwin, some of the most influential American composers in the last century. When the piano solo begins, the references to Gershwin are brought even more strongly into focus. The second movement is soft and sweet, with dissonant string crescendo-decrescendos scattered throughout. The final movement piano solo is very similar to the first movement’s, but this time appears to be influenced more by Ives. Later on in the movement, it sounds modern, like a movie soundtrack. The “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” was originally commissioned by the Nashville Symphony, and So There features Ben Folds himself in the solo.
So There is one of the more unique albums released lately. The eclectic blend of modern and classical music is a treat for the ear. However, the two halves of the album feel slightly disjointed: It may have been a better choice to put the “Concerto” in the middle of the album, rather than the end. Still, So There is a wonderful start for New West Records, and hopefully more in this style will be released by Folds.