Like most people living in first world countries, the members of Listener have everything needed for survival – food, water, safety, and presumably, love and esteem. But the talking music rock trio from Missouri aren’t satisfied with just being upright blobs of DNA with primal instincts – they’re searching for something more. In their 2018 album, ‘Being Empty: Being Filled’, the band attempts to explore what a meaningful life is. Lyricist Dan Smith (vocals, bass) assigns each of the 10 songs to different famous inventors, comparing their tinkering, successes and failures to his own life of creating art in music. The formula strays once in Little Folded Finger, where his parents are the inventors.
The opening track, Pent Up Genes, is an upbeat anthem that portrays perfectly Smith’s desire for producing something real and lasting in a frantic, consumerist society. Little Folded Fingers shows off his brand of hurried, upset poetry in the best possible way, discussing the fragility of love, while There’s Money in the Walls begins with a sad, isolated monologue before transitioning nicely into a rock song about relationships gone off the boil. Smith’s technique works surprisingly well with Jon Terrey’s constant riff changes and at times, floaty and fuzzy strumming. Kris Rochelle on drums punctuates each piece of spoken word rock and roll with power and consistency. On the downside, the best song on Being Empty: Being Filled is the first track, so as the album progresses, the quirky environment is replaced by a dark, unsure place. Just when you think you’ve got a hold on the music, it slips away to another location. It’s exciting at first but can be tiring in parts.
The album rounds out with political songs that touch on nuclear weapons (Manhattan Projects) and gas masks (Plague Doctor). While some will find the ‘astronaut voice’ at the end of Plague Doctor stirring, it detracts from what the song could be. For the most part, the band achieves its goal of explaining what a meaningful life could look like. Smith delivers the material with an authenticity and punch that few other spoken word bands can match. When he has a thought, he writes it down, stews on it, then fires it off into a recording at speed.
The joy of listening to Listener is absorbing the genuine lyrics punctuated by Smith’s odd, rushed accent, and the way the guitars and drums complement it. “Being Empty: Being Filled” has grand intentions, but it doesn’t sound as heartfelt as 2010’s release, ‘Wooden Heart’. Even so, the three rocking poets from Kansas City deliver an album that few could. The musical approach is still fresh 16 years on, and if the purpose of music is to make you feel something, then the album does its job.
Get your copy of Being Empty: Being Filled HERE.