What I’m Doing

What I’m Listening To

The Sound of the Life of the Mind by Ben Folds Five.

You might expect that when a band has their first release in about 13 years, it might take them a minute to get their feet under them. Apparently, not so for Ben Folds Five. I don’t mean to say that they picked up where they left off exactly, but if you drew a line from Ben Folds Five to Whatever and Ever Amen to The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, and then extrapolated that line out, The Sound of the Life of the Mind would absolutely fall on that line. The album makes sense, and doesn’t rely on nostalgia. It’s just legitimately good music for people who used to like Ben Folds Five-style music.

Everything that made Ben Folds Five is present; they’re still the ironic nerd rockers they always were. Only Ben Folds Five could do a rock song describing the academic life as “rocking like a mother” (Rosa Parks and DNA, Joan of Arc and JFK), and then title their entire album after that song. Only Ben Folds could work a “don’t tase me bro” reference into a song, and the old Ben Folds Five irreverence is there too (If you can’t draw a crowd, draw d!c&s on the wall). All the old harmonies are there (listen to the first 30 seconds of “Michael Praytor, 5 Years Later”, and you’ll have no doubt which band you’re listening to).

Before listening to this album, I couldn’t have told you exactly how the “Ben Folds Five” sound differed from the Ben Folds solo-artist sound. But listening to it, there definitely is something different. Make no mistake, Mr. Folds has always been the one driving the truck as it were, but even though he used all the same tricks on his solo albums (harmonies, drum/bass backup, storytelling lyrics), it was different. The solo albums were definitely solo albums, and all of the non-Ben Folds, backup stuff really was just backup. You could have removed most of it without fundamentally changing the songs. Robert and Darren bring the bass and drums forward; without them the songs would be hollow.

“Do it Anyway” is a good first single, and showcases the fun side of the band, but for my money the best tracks are “Erase Me” and “The Sound of the Life of the Mind”.

And hey, if nothing else, they have Fraggles:

What I’m Watching

Written by a Kid on the Geek and Sundry youtube channel

When I last talked about Geek and Sundry, Written by a Kid had not yet premiered yet. Now it has, however, and it is awesome.

The premise is that they have a kid tell a story, and then they have someone direct the story however they see fit. Some of them are live action, some of the are animated, all of them are awesome.  The best part is that the directors take the story very seriously, with real actors and special effects as if this were some big budget Hollywood script, while at the same time directing something that makes absolutely no sense (such as the elite police “squat” team coming it to take out the monster). The kids are adorable, the stories are great, and the production value is through the roof. Take a quick stroll through Goth Boy, Scary Smash, Fire City, or Kendall the Knight to see what I mean.

While you’re over at Geek and Sundry, check out some of the other great shows. TableTop continues to be one of my favorites. For a sampler, check out the Fiasco episodes Setup, Part 1 and Part 2.

What I’m Reading

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

OMG you guys. Seriously.

Okay, I know that I’m a little late to the game, since these are super-well known (Wise Man’s Fear was a #1 New York Times Bestseller) but wow are these good. If you’re looking for the next big fantasy series, this is the one (er…the next big thing that’s already half way done, since it is a trilogy with 2 out of 3 books already out).

And when I say the next big fantasy series, I mean that literally (662 and 994 pages respectively). But I’m not joking to say that 1656 weren’t enough. Unfortunately, Mr. Rothfuss seems to be on the George R.R. Martin plan of book writing (making us wait forever and a day for the next gigantic, amazing book), so I think it will be awhile before we get book 3.

Hmm, what to say, what to say. If you’re into magic, and music, and plucky street kids, legends and how they are made, fairies and fighting and romantic interests, inn keepers, demons, and exotic foreign lands populated with secret ninja training, and (of course) a school for kids who do magic, then read these books. If you want to be swept up in an epic story with fantastic writing, then read these books. If you’re into fantasy, or not traditionally into fantasy but looking for a good intro into fantasy, read these books. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t like them.

Then come back here and we can discuss them. Highly recommended.

Ben Folds

Just to finish off the week of “things we’ve been doing lately”, two weeks ago today Sara and I actually got a babysitter (*gasp*) to go see the man, the myth, the legend: Mr. Ben Folds.

I have been a fan of Ben Folds for such a ridiculously long period of time (though not quite as long as Sara, who claims I “stole” Ben Folds from her, despite the fact that I had a couple of pirated mp3s before I met her!) that it’s almost hard to remember a music landscape without him. Actually, I just remembered that “Whatever and Ever Amen” was the first thing I ever bought off this crazy new website called eBay. Sara and I danced to “The Luckiest” at our wedding. My mom liked the song so much, that years later she danced to “The Luckiest” at her wedding.

Previous to this concert, I’ve seen Ben Folds four times, and each one was unique and totally awesome. I sat in the front row of the balcony at the University of Illinois in a venue so small that I probably could have sweat on him. I saw him at a true college show at Purdue as part of my bachelor party, where he was hilarious in between songs. He was very chatty, telling all kinds of stories about growing up when we saw him in his home state of North Carolina. And finally, we had the truly unique concert experience when we saw him with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Still, through all of that, I had never actually seen Ben Folds Five together in concert (Sara saw them once in the ’90’s). So when our friend Dabu informed us they were coming to Chicago for the “World’s Largest Block Party”, we knew we had to go. It was every bit as awesome as I could have hoped it would be. They played all the best old stuff, and I heard every song that I hoped I would hear.

(They don’t look this young anymore)

I believe we have 16 Ben Folds or Ben Folds Five CDs (technically four of them are just EPs, and one is a DVD), and every one of them is awesome, start to finish. I love the old, ironic nerd rock, Ben Folds Five stuff. I love the slightly more serious solo Ben Folds stuff. Even the very newest stuff is good, the last new album “Lonely Avenue” is one of my favorites. And the new retrospective “The Best Imitation of Myself” is probably the best compilation I have ever heard from any artist. I even loved Mr. Folds on the now-defunct acapella show The Sing Off.

You know the old saying, you have to know the rules to break them? I think Ben Folds’ deep understanding (intuition?) of music is what allows him to get away with the things he does. Like writing a beautiful song about something ugly, or an upbeat song about something sad, or to have a harmony-driven-piano-centric-with-no-guitars pop band, or to call three musicians “Ben Folds’ Five”.

I don’t know what it is exactly about the music, but the best I can say is that it’s just beautiful. It’s beautiful when it’s about the human condition, but it’s also beautiful when it’s talking about Americans over-consuming. It’s beautiful when it’s talking about love, but it’s also beautiful when it’s talking about breakups, or relationships gone wrong, or abortion, or a bad acid trip, or people who wear fanny packs. It’s just always, unceasingly, heartrendingly beautiful.

Ben Folds Five is preparing to release a new album, and you can pre-order it here. In fact, if you do, you instantly become a “Vice President of Promotion”, which you should go ahead an do, so we can be co-Vice Presidents together. It will be very nice working with you.