Ben Folds

Fear of Pop, Vol. 1

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Ben Folds' first solo project away from the ultra-pop of Ben Folds Five is not the upbeat, piano banging you would expect after listening to his previous work. As his project's name spells out in bold letters, Fear of Pop collects all of the nasty little demons running through Folds' mind when he's singing his sweet ditties. The biggest distinction is the addition of guitar, a BF5 no-no. Screeching chords christen the album's title track as Folds howls at his most unharmonic. From there, every track continues on in a different experimental vein that paints Folds as some manic child who has just gotten a recording studio for Christmas. 1970s sleaze funk mixes with avant-garde flute and muffled crime-scene samples on "Kops"; "Blink" sounds like background music at a planetarium laser light show; the synth pop throwback "Avery M. Powers Memorial Speedway" sounds like a lost Heaven 17/Sigue Sigue Sputnik collaboration. Most interesting of Folds' experiments is "In Love," which gives William Shatner, Mr. Golden Throat himself, a chance to mutter suave, obscure poetry over a sea of smooth backing vocals and tinny drum machines. Shatner's appearance is enough to clue you in that Folds is anything but serious with this eclectic surge of energy. If anything, the bizarre humor mixed with the swift sounds and firm beats makes Volume 1 a danceable novelty record with a justified sense of end-of-the-millennium attention deficit disorder.

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