Home Read Albums Of The Week: Ben Folds | What Matters Most

Albums Of The Week: Ben Folds | What Matters Most

Although he’s still capable of rockin' the suburbs now and then, the piano popster prefers to serenade your soul on a sophisticated, bittersweet & superbly crafted LP.


THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Ben Folds’ new album What Matters Most is his first studio album since his chart-topping So There in 2015. What Matters Most is a bold, timely, cinematic work that examines the tragic and the absurd in equal measures as it reckons with hope and despair, gratitude and loss, identity and perspective. “There’s a lifetime of craft and experience all focused into this one record. Sonically, lyrically, emotionally, I don’t think it’s an album I could have made at any other point in my career,” Folds says. “More than anything, I wanted to make an album that was generous, that was useful. I want you to finish this record with something you didn’t have when you started.”

Indeed, What Matters Most isn’t so much a statement as it is an offering, an open hand reaching out to all those wounded and bewildered by a world that seems to make less and less sense every day. Recorded in East Nashville with co-producer Joe Pisapia, it’s a bold, timely, cinematic work that examines the tragic and the absurd in equal measure as it reckons with hope and despair, gratitude and loss, identity and perspective. The songs are bittersweet here, hilarious there, and often laced with a quiet sense of longing and dread: A text message goes unanswered; an old classmate descends into the dark depths of internet conspiracies; a relationship unravels in the middle of a lake. And yet, taken as a whole, the result is an undeniably joyful record that refuses to succumb to the weight of the world around it, an ecstatic reminder of all the beauty and promise hiding in plain sight for anyone willing (and present enough) to recognize their moments as they arrive.

Before the album’s release, Folds shared the single Back To Anonymous, a song he wrote during the pandemic when people’s identities were hidden behind masks. “It got me thinking about everyday people who just do the most amazing things that we should aspire to, yet they never get applause. That’s who the song is for — those who truly deserve to be recognized and applauded,” says Folds. He also shared the video for the single Exhausting Lover, directed by actor and comedian Derek Waters of Drunk History fame. The video depicts an outrageous staged musical directed by Folds and based on the song’s lyrics.

Photo by Alyasse Gafjken.

Born and raised in North Carolina, Folds first rose to fame in the mid-’90s with Ben Folds Five, whose acerbic, genre-bending take on piano pop helped define an entire era of alternative rock. After scoring multiple hit singles and a gold record, Folds launched his solo career in 2001, releasing a series of similarly acclaimed albums that would firmly establish him as one of the most ambitious and versatile songwriters of his generation. In 2010, Folds teamed up with celebrated author Nick Hornby on a collaborative record titled Lonely Avenue. In 2014, he composed and performed his first piano concerto for the Nashville Symphony & Nashville Ballet. In 2017, he became the artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, where he began curating a series of performances marrying contemporary artists with symphonic orchestration. In 2019, he released his best-selling memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs; and in 2021, he launched the Lightning Bugs podcast, an interview series on creativity and process with guests as diverse as Jon Batiste, Sara Bareilles, Rainn Wilson and his close friend Bob Saget.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Folds also revealed himself to be a prolific photographer with gallery shows in the U.S. and Europe, appeared onscreen in films and television (most recently playing himself in the Amazon Prime series The Wilds), composed music for a 25-minute stage adaptation of Mo Willem’s Goldilocks And The Three Dinosaurs (which premiered at the Kennedy Center and was featured on PBS), and serves on the boards of the Arts Action Fund, the Nashville Symphony, and Planet Word, a new immersive museum in D.C. dedicated to celebrating the power of language. Last year, Folds was nominated for an Emmy for his composition and performance of the theme song to the Apple TV special It’s the Small Things, Charlie Brown.

“It can be difficult jumping back and forth from one discipline to another,” says Folds, “but you learn so much from moving between worlds and collaborating with so many different kinds of artists. I performed some of the songs on this record with the National Symphony Orchestra before I finished recording them for the album, and that context gave me so much insight into how I wanted to handle them in the studio.”


Previous articleAlbums Of The Week: Baxter Dury | I Thought I Was Better Than You
Next articleAlbums Of The Week: Ben Harper | Wide Open Light