Ben Folds has a new CD. What? You didn’t know? That’s because there is little, if any publicity regarding this new five song EP, available online only from a website (www.attackedbyplastic.com) created for the purpose of marketing it, Apple’s iTunes and Sony Music Digital Download. In a recording coup, Folds has recorded and released this album on his own, to avoid the publicity circus and (in his own words) “having to pose naked on a piano.”
You probably wouldn’t have known about it except through word of mouth, by regularly checking Folds’ website (www.benfolds.com) or if you heard him promote it on his recent opening act for Tori Amos’ Lottapianos tour. Speed Graphic is the first in a series of three EPs that Folds plans to release before 2004, when he will release a full album, presumably containing the songs from the three EPs. The ensemble appearing on this creation consists of acoustic piano, bass and drums, ignoring the virtually omnipresent synthesizers, which he has referred to as “those digital ironing board looking things” in interviews.
Kicking the disc off, Ben Folds’ youthful voice inspires new life into a cover of The Cure’s “In Between Days.” His bouncy, elastic tone lends itself well to the song, breathing a bit of hope into an otherwise drearily themed song, which becomes upbeat and catchy despite morose lyrics. He follows this with one of his trademark slow piano ballads, “Give Judy My Notice.” In this selection, his normally exuberant tone does not shine through, except in the sly insertion of the lyrics “Judy, I won’t be your bitch anymore.” The jazz-inflected piano of the EP’s third selection, “Protection,” reveal that Folds’ strengths lie in his virtuosity at his instrument. Drum riffs straight out of a pop song accompany the jazziest chords you’ll find in a piano accompaniment this side of the divide between jazz and popular music. Folds’ trademark humor shines through again if you listen to the background vocals in this selection. Listen to it yourself, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
In the strongest position on the album is the catchy and ebulliently buoyant tune “Dog,” a previously unreleased song written with Evan Olson, and never recorded in studio. (Although if you search carefully on any file sharing utility, you can find what sounds like an old demo-tape recording of said song.) The glib piano riff from the beginning is reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.” Rounding out the album is another solemn piano ballad, where Ben Folds’ normally flamboyant pianistics are subdued to a simple chordal accompaniment.
Overall, the EP has a rather glum feeling to it, but fans can keep their fingers crossed for a more cheerful lineup on his next EP (Sunny 16) which is due to be released in September of this year. Despite the overall glum feeling, each song rings emotionally true, and taken as an entire package is a brilliant miniature portrait of Ben Folds as a solo artist.
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