Outside of a decent yet forgettable, one-off new track that appeared on Ben Folds' 2011 Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective compilation, it's been an awfully long time since the Ben Folds Five have graced listeners with a full-on dose of their signature blend of nostalgia and snark. Sound of the Life of the Mind, the trio's fourth studio album pretty much picks right up where 1999's Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner left off. Anchored by the instantly familiar interplay between Robert Sledge's distorted bass, Folds' percussive yet always melodic piano, and Darren Jessee's meaty yet always lyrical drum work, the first two cuts -- the funereal, art-punk-infused "Erase Me" and the retro-pop gem "Michael Praytor, Five Years Later," the latter of which sounds like it was egregiously left off of Jellyfish's Spilt Milk -- sound like they arrived via wormhole. The band has always been at its best when allowed the freedom to run around and kick stuff, and those tracks, along with the frenzied "Do It Anyway" and the propulsive title cut, which was co-written with Lonely Avenue collaborator Nick Hornby, are right in the band's wheelhouse, but Folds' has made a name for himself as a proper AOR balladeer since the group's demise, and the Sound of the Life of the Mind reflects that change, allowing for a ballad-to-rocker ratio that slightly favors the former. Of those slower numbers, the lovely and unguarded "Away When You Were Here" packs the most punch, but it feels like something off of Songs for Silverman rather than Whatever and Ever Amen, and like the pretty yet forgettable "Sky High," it kills the momentum that was so skillfully applied before it. That said, sarcastic, sweet, subversive, geeky, and awkward are hard vibes to juggle, but Folds, Sledge, and Jessee manage more times than not to keep all of the pins in the air, which after more than a decade apart, is pretty remarkable.