Spoken word has been slowly infiltrating sub-genres of the rock and hardcore scenes over the recent years. But, for Listener’s Dan Smith, what started as an underground hip-hop solo project has become a full-fledged band, embracing the color-outside-the-lines nature of spoken word with the ethos of chaotic metal. The band’s most recent contribution to this rock-heavy poetry is Being Empty: Being Filled.
Without a doubt, Smith is the greatest part of this album. Although his voice first gave me a visual of some maniacal scientist in a lab, it didn’t take long to find the rhythm of his vocal performance and its correspondence with the ever-changing rock drive. The lack of traditional structure in each of the high energy songs allows a wild eccentricity to flourish in a sound that’s exactly as abstract as the cover art looks. It’s a perfect pairing in that way, a fantastic example of how music and art speak the same language.
So much about this album is weird because it’s punk, poetry, a huge spectrum of rock, and a lot of what’s in between. Yet, for all of these reasons – and the fact that such varied styles co-exist and mingle so seamlessly – it’s a brilliant release. One track that especially sticks out, “Window to the World,” has some deliciously nonsensical artistic license used in lieu of common verse. It’s in the Anthony Kiedis vein, with lines like, “October’s my favorite color and you, you’re growing on me.” Add to this funk-punk the fact that Smith is drawing some major Adam Duritz vibes in his vocals, and this track is a late ’90s inspired dream.
Like most great albums, a lot of behind-the-scenes manpower was put into this release; otherwise, it could easily have been a scattered mess in the wrong hands. But it was handled by Josh Scogin, someone who understands experimentation and how to make big-picture themes connect, even in minute details. His unconventional creativity is apparent in his production, and Listener struck gold with that partnership.
Listener has found perfect sonic balance by framing Smith’s introspective prose with an instrumental strength to turn out some of the most atypical, original music I’ve heard in the last couple years – and it is very much appreciated.