Continuous Hit Music: Ben Folds – Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective

Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ’em all here.

Artist: Ben Folds
Title: Best Imitation Of Myself: A Retrospective
Original Release: 2011
Label: Legacy
Store: Red Eye Records, 143 York Street, Sydney
Price: $44.98
(Original)

Red Eye is a Sydney institution. I started going there in the early 90s, after school, buying You Am I singles. I still go there, nowadays to chat to the staff and buy records. It is the only physical store I go in Sydney to buy new music.

They moved recently, and they cut down the room for their CDs, but still kept a generous record selection – both new and second hand. The selection of new vinyl is probably the best in Sydney. The only problem is stuff sells out so quickly. It’s often frustrating how quickly new titles sell out.

I would say that the only place that would stock this album on vinyl in Sydney would be Red Eye. If anyone knows one otherwise, I would like to know! And it’s the importance of physical retail because I wasn’t sure if I would pick up this record. But the hefty double vinyl just drew me in.

I love Ben Folds. He will be an evergreen artist for me, as long as I live. I loved Underground in 1994 (my introduction to augmented chords), and lived through and loved through every album since. (His last album, with Nick Hornby, has been well worn in my house/ipod)

But I was hesitant about this best-of. Just because I had it all. And this order of songs is not my order of songs. It’s not even my songs. My 20 favourite Ben Folds songs come from personal moments, and not singles that charted. I didn’t think I need this. Especially in the iPod era, I can just shuffle Ben Folds.

But if any point is left in compilations, then this is a good reminder. It’s Fold’s own tracklisting for you. Opening up this lovely double gatefold record, you are greeted with personal notes on every song. It’s great to read the songs that are important to him.

Two songs about his kids take prime position – and the contrast between the two songs (one defiant and big, the other sweet and small), tell a new story. I’ve never thought much of “The Luckiest”, but reading Folds’ notes on it give me a new perspective. There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You, never a single, is rightly included.

Better still is just that it’s a sprawling double album. I lovely afternoon sitting in a sun chair, reading liner notes, looking at photos and playing this record – there is nothing more pleasant. It was like a lovely concert. A playlist, a journey for the listener.

It’s easy for me to say there’s not a bad song on here. But I would probably say you need to get all the albums, if you want good music. But if you want a reason why big sprawling double best-ofs should exist, then this a good start.

100 for 2000 – #51. Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2005 – #1. Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman
(Sony)

I adore this Songs For Silverman, beyond all sense. It’s by no means the best album Ben Folds has put his name to. Yet, it is miles away my favourite. I would not recommend anyone start with Ben folds on this record. Yet I love it. It feels like it’s made for me. I fell in love with this album in 2005 and have carried it with me closely ever since. Several of the songs on here are the highest played songs on my iPod!

Not that I wouldn’t have bought this album anyway, as I am a big fan of Folds, but this album came with no expectations from me. I had heard there’s a new record coming out. I had heard the single (Landed) and thought it was pretty nice. But at the time I was listening to A LOT of adult pop. I was utterly obsessed with Paul Simon’s solo work. I loved Simon’s reserved character, and how he let the songs speak without putting on a passionate voice or demeanor (the opposite of the tortured artist schtick of Ryan Adams).

So in 2005, I listened to this record, those early Paul Simon records and that year’s Aimee Mann record (will be talked about later). And they all share that trait. No show-boating. Which is big for Folds, because high energy and humour are two things that helped make his career. His last hit had been Rockin’ the Suburbs.

That no showboating, unsentimental feel of this record pretty much summed up those years for me as well. I was getting over things, and moving on. A lot of the fire I had in my early 20s were going out. But it also meant I stopped feeling bad about some stuff. And feeling bad about things is not something that happens on this record.

The characters that populate the songs on this album have it hard, but Folds is offering them little comfort or empathy. The from the old man in Bastard to the young couple in You To Thank, Folds gives you their story, the inevitable ending and leaves it at that. And if you are to look at these characters as part of Folds himself (dangerous ground, I know), then he is playing both the has-been and the young naive fool in a doomed relationship.

It was not until years later that Folds said that this was a break-up album, as he divorced his wife after this album. But it’s actually one step more – it’s a moving on album. Give Judy My Notice, the centerpiece heart of the record, is simply that – a guy saying to his girl that he’s not going to be around anymore.

It all ends in a glorious, laid back, mid tempo climax of my three favourite Ben Folds songs ever. I have listened to these three songs many, many times.

Sentimental Guy, third last on the album, is another goodbye song – but Folds is looking back at the past and wonders why he doesn’t miss it more. Brilliant, subtle, songwriter-y images flood the song, and the melody lifts at the end… god it’s great. My fave of the three.

Time, the second last track on the album is regretful but damning. A song to an ex-lover, giving them the blessing to crucify your memory, both in her head and to her friends. But how they both know it’s not the whole truth. It’s up there with the great fuck yous of early Bob Dylan, but done in a more gentlemanly manner, and with a killer piano hook.

Finally, Prison Food. There is much less going on here lyrically, but it’s a hypnotic rush. It’s got a huge Floyd like middle bit that rushed through like a plane engine of harmonies. It’s some mumbo jumbo about walking the earth and being alone. It certainly sounds like a big existential point, and it’s the right way to end such a personal record.

But there are other songs apart from the relationships and characters. Gracie, the lightest moment on the record, is written for his daughter. Yet, compared with other pop treats in this man’s catalogue, it’s incredibly spare. Then there’s Late, a tribute to the late Elliott Smith. Even Fold’s take on that is down to earth and drama-less.

I mean, for fuck’s sake. How many other albums can you think of that has a black and white cover? That’s the mood we are working in.

I love the other songs I haven’t mentioned but that would just be listing, wouldn’t it? But I do have to say, the music and production are typically awesome. Folds has lost none of his melodic gifts. His songs are just as interesting and well built as always. It certainly beats the college rock shine of his last record.

So what so great about a musician keeping his emotions in check? I don’t know. I know it’s not a popular view. But sometimes I don’t want drama. As much as I love Thunder Road, I realise I’m not the guy in that song. But I feel like I’m the people on this record, and these kinds of records. It’s like, sometimes I just want to watch something that’s two people I can relate to talking to eachother for a long time. Put the spaceships away.

These are every day songs. To paraphrase a friend, these songs are like those reliable socks. Not flashy, but they are well made and you get something out of them in ordinary situations. I still look for records like these, because I can always do with more socks.

Ben Folds A Cappella

Folds with the Princeton Nasoons

We’ve all seen them flood youtube. Amateur and home recordings of people, every day folk like you or I, performing the music of others. Thousands upon thousands of guitarists, piano players and singers showing off their chops.

It is this phenomenon that kicked off the new album by Ben Folds. The album is called University A Cappella, and it does just what it says on the tin. It’s University A Cappella groups covering Ben Folds songs.

The idea came from Folds being sent a link of a university a cappella group performing one of his songs.

Once he decided to record these a cappella versions, he put the word out online and University groups submitted 250 versions of his songs for consideration. 14 groups make the final tracklisting, and Folds himself contributes two tracks.

It is a surprisingly varied recording. The ‘Loreleis’ stand out by being an all girl group. The female voice also counter points on You Don’t Know Me performed by ‘With Someone Else’s Money’. Folds himself flew around the US to halls, studios and whatever rooms he could find to help oversee the recordings.

We don’t see this as being a major work. It will sit along side ‘Fear Of Pop’ and the Shatner record as curiosities in Folds’ career. What is cool is how this record came together. There is a link to a video below, and seeing these kids very excited to be recording is a blast.

It all came full circle in February when the Nasoons, the a cappella group from Princeton who started it all, supported Ben Folds at a gig. So next time you put up that video of yourself playing a song, you might end up supporting the band one day!

Watch a great making of video at http://www.benfolds.com/acappella