Ben Folds Five
The Sound of the Life of the Mind
ImaVeePee / Sony Music
Initiates will know that North Carolina's Ben Folds Five are in fact an indie trio led by the pianist Ben Folds, a writer whose character-rich songs often take the road less travelled.
"Their eyes would scan beyond me for a glimpse of something more", he sings during On Being Frank, a fine, almost Carpenters-like nugget written from the perspective of one of Frank Sinatra's lackeys.
This is the band's first album of all-new material in 13 years, but the reunion of Folds with the bassist Robert Sledge and the drummer Darren Jessee has resulted in an all-thriller, no-filler set where quirky pop hooks are offset by Folds's virtuosic piano.
Much of the sonic dirt comes from Sledge, whose fat, sometimes overdriven bass sound is as welcome as that of The Stranglers' Jean-Jacques Burnel. The influence of show tunes, jazz, disco, hillbilly folk and 1970s pop can all be heard, but the four-times-married Folds often taps into a wistfulness that lends his material gravitas. "What was our home? / Paper, not stone", he sings on Erase Me, while the gorgeous, gently rolling Sky High can only grasp at happiness.