It's an interesting sensation when after listening to album time after time, something finally clicks. It's as if something was hiding beneath the notes and words that your ears couldn't register until another twenty plays on a song, or perhaps just another play through the record. While the occurrence is fairly commonplace in music, it still remains perplexing the way music can grow on you, and this exact sensation came with Listener's 2010 LP, Wooden Heart. Led by Dan Smith, Listener is one of the more unique bands hiding in the poetic indie underground. They utilize a style, which Smith named "Talk Music", which is more a poetic reciting than a standard musical structure. This may be rather off-putting upon first listen, but it soon begins to grow a rather intimate feel to it, feeling as if you've known Dan Smith for years after hearing the record. He shouts passionately in his disjointed manor, his voice twitching and jumping sporadically with the lyrics, but it adds a certain intensity which slowly grows and builds as the album swells until its passionate conclusion. The substance is there and the poetry is remarkable in the way it flows effortlessly, but for the listener it may take several efforts to fully digest what Wooden Heart offers -- and therein lies its beauty.
The record begins with a timid plucking of the banjo, supplying all that is needed for Dan Smith to enter with his shouts in a charming southern twang. His manner of singing, or rather speaking, is what makes this record so appealing. It strays away from natural and flowing vocal work for a more personal and passionate touch much like that of mewithoutYou's Aaron Weiss. However strange it may appear on the surface, it's his vocal work that holds the record together. The poetry he shouts could be told in a variety of ways, but this raw, unrestrained style helps slam the message and emotion across. This holds most true on "Seatbelt Hands", where the story of a waitress in the south never seemed more gorgeous. Smith's descriptions like "She's the kind of lady that calls everybody baby/Honey, sugar, sweetie, she's always making friends and she keeps us all locked outside her thick leather skin" are the most impressive moments of the album. He represents these characters in quick, concise descriptions but makes it seems as if he wrote a novel over them. Paired with the music, which composes mostly of electric guitar and pounding drums, along with a few scattered instruments here and there, Wooden Heart has the makings of a poetic magnum opus for the band -- and it's just waiting to explode.
And the group couldn't deserve the attention any more. Often performing in the basements of anybody who will take them, Listener are one of those groups who appear like a star in the space of the modern underground music scene. Like a diamond in the dirt, stumbling upon them is a true delight, and their fourth LP contains some of the best music of 2010. It rises and falls with its intense, compassionate songs like "Save Up Your Hopes Friends" and the slower, more flowing songs such as "You Were A House On Fire" which holds the diversity to make it worth the several listens it requires to fully digest it. Fans of poetic and passionate lyricism will be immediately attracted to Dan Smith's presentation and lyrical brilliance, and in no time will be hooked. Listener's Wooden Heart, could easily grow to be one of the several excellent records of the year, and for good reason. It holds everything that makes music what it should be.