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Ben Folds (Outdoors)

What Matters Most, Ben Folds’ first new album in eight years, 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, the collection is a bold, timely 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 at times, though often laced with a quiet sense of longing and dread. The result is a record that refuses to succumb to the world’s weight. It is an ecstatic reminder of all the beauty and promises to hide in plain sight for anyone willing (and present enough) to recognize their moments as they arrive.

A North Carolina native, 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 with the band, 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. As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Folds is also a New York Times­ best-selling author, artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, and a prolific photographer, actor, and podcast host.