Ben Folds unwittingly threw me a lifeline at precisely the moment I most deeply lamented what was happening in music. Ben Folds Five, the debut album from the trio that bore his name, arrived in the summer of 1995, just as “alternative rock” was peaking as a commercial radio format and simultaneously destroying itself with a thuddingly monotonous approach to playlists. As I listened from a bunker of a radio study, drowning in dispiriting, lifeless grunge knockoffs, I longed for something that just sounded different. One of the things I most valued about college radio was the sense that it could go just about anywhere. If the music was good, it was worth playing. No other defining criteria was really needed or welcome.
Folds delivered the “good,” resoundingly so. Ben Folds Five was a constant wonder of witty, buoyant, musically intricate, piano-based pop rock. The commercial radio I worked at grudgingly played the lead single, “Underground,” though it was quick to rush back to the dull-witted reassurance of, say, a Bush song. Folds and his cohorts dominated the antidote playlist I crafted for myself back home. Every time I could retreat to the album — and the couple that followed — it was a relief and a rejuvenation.
Following his initial run with Ben Folds Five, the performer had one of the odder career trajectories of someone who logged time on alternative radio in the nineteen-nineties, including song contributions to an animated movie no one cares about and a stint as a TV talent show judge. He kept making music, too. Even if I was no longer a strict devotee, every once in a while he’s come up with a song that circled me back to those days of intense appreciation. That’s how I felt when I first heard “Landed,” an introduction that fittingly took place while I sat in a radio studio. It struck me as trademark Folds: smart, melodically precise, emotionally resonant. With a cascade of piano notes, it swings me back to the way I felt when first hearing his music.
Listen or download –> Ben Folds, “Landed (alternate mix)”
(Disclaimer: The version of “Landed” shared here appears on the advance single the heralded the arrival of Songs for Silverman, Folds’s strongest solo album. To my knowledge, it hasn’t shown up anywhere else, and I believe the track is unavailable for purchase in a manner that compensates both the artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. That’s part of the reason I selected this song over any number of others in the Folds catalog. It is shared here with no malice and with the hope that it will encourage folks to buy some of his albums, or, maybe even better, go and see him on tour. I like doing my part to keep that component of the Folds business model sound. I have my reasons for that. Though I believe sharing this song in this way at this time in this place should qualify as fair use, I know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove the file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)