What Matters Most is Ben Folds’ first studio release in eight years, with a powerful collection of songs that reaches out to everyone who is confused or intimidated by a world torn asunder by tragedy and despair. “More than anything, I wanted to make an album that was generous, that was useful,” says Folds. “I want you to finish this record with something you didn’t have when you started.”
A native of North Carolina, Folds rose to fame in the mid-’90s with Ben Folds Five, who defined genre-bending Pop piano that helped to illustrate an entire era of Alternative Rock. Following multiple hit singles Folds launched his solo career in 2001, when he released a series of highly acclaimed albums that would establish him as one of the most ambitious and versatile songwriters of his generation.
Folds collaborated with author Nick Hornby on an album titled Lonely Avenue in 2014 and would compose his first piano concerto for the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and the Asheville Ballet in 2015. He became the artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, where he curated a series of performances coupling contemporary artists with symphonic orchestration. “One thing I’ve taken from all my orchestral work is that music feels best to me when it’s an event,” says Folds. “It’s easy to lose sight of that now that you can digitally edit the life and reality out of everything, but I’m trying to take the audience on a ride with me, and a big part of that requires grounding everything in the spirit of storytelling and live performance.”
Folds tackled the recording process with an orchestrator’s ear, carefully arranging each instrumental element in relief to his electrifying, insistent vocal melodies. What Matters Most celebrates unpredictability, humor and pathos with precision as he walks a delicate line between the ridiculous and the mundane. The album’s first single “Exhausting Lover” perfectly illustrates a caricature of Rock & Roll decadence with an addictive groove, while “Clouds With Ellipses” ponders the modern rhythms and anxieties that come with sharing our most intimate, vulnerable selves via text. “Back To Anonymous” embraces the concept of freedom in a world in which everyone is masked, while “Winslow Gardens” speaks about losing time while being isolated with a loved one. What Matters Most is a stellar group of songs that vividly illustrate how the age of overstimulation, overconsumption and self-absorption wreak havoc upon everyday life.
At radio, most of the panel is playing the album, including WXRV, KXT, KPNW, Colorado Sound, Lightning 100 and WNRN.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen