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“Listen” to the Environment

by admin on November 26, 2012

There are certain qualities that we attribute to wonderful singers—among them: beautiful voices, stage presence, lyricism. But what about the speaking voice? Would you consider a person who stands on stage and talks and yells along with his music a singer? There is a man that goes by the name of Dan Smith who does exactly this. Listener is a “talk music” group composed of Dan Smith and Chris Nelson. Talk music is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of manipulating the voice to make certain pitches, as most singers do, Dan Smith simply talks his way through his music. It has been described as being “a wide spanning style that features a heavy vocal element that is neither screamed, sung, or just spoken. The lyrics are more like ranting poetry.” Smith is a poet who puts his works to music. If you listen closely to his lyrics, you may find that there is a deeper meaning to them than just playing for fun.

The lyrical content of today’s radio songs centers on sex, getting drunk, and partying. Smith takes a different approach with his lyrics, which are about bettering the world, the environment, and ourselves. His accompanimental approach is unique, too. When you hear the word “musical instruments,” usually words like “guitar,” “drums,” “piano,” and maybe even “saxophone” enter your mind. How about “washing machine”? In Listener’s song “Ozark Empire, Or A Snake Oil Salesman Comes To Your Town,” the only sounds present are the sounds of hands clapping and a constant banging, caused by the beating of a washing machine with a wooden rod. What some may call “destruction,” they look at as recycling. In a Boy Meets Band interview, Smith noted, ”I was doing the laundry one day and slammed the lid down, and just brought the recording equipment in to the closet and made that song… it wasn’t until I saw one at a dumpster that I threw it in the van and had Chris play it on the road.” How many songs can you think of that incorporate a washing machine for a melody? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

After watching a few of Listener’s music videos, one senses  a deep meaning behind them. In “Falling in Love With Glaciers,” notice Smith and Nelson performing their piece outside. As the video goes on you get a bigger picture of what is around them: the destruction of the world. They’re playing on a stage surrounded by the ruined remains of buildings. In “Wooden Heart,” Smith is seen recovering household objects out of a lake. Once this process is complete, he takes a hammer and destroys it all. The message is that even though mankind can recover things that were once lost, it is easy to destroy rather than build upon them.

Smith grew up in Missouri—a place that impacted his music greatly. It contributed to his music in a sense that—in his words, “It didn’t have a style or sway one way to another to what kind of music was accepted.” While playing the Livemusic Social Club, Smith and Nelson described their affection for music that arrives “not through any filter that society or this world offers, [but] that’s honest and from the heart. Not having any agenda or some kind of ulterior motive or intention, whether it’s to be cool, indie or avant-garde, none of that – and to just do it.” Smith and Nelson are not just two ordinary guys making music for the sheer enjoyment of it. They want everyone to learn to be true to themselves and to the world as well. It doesn’t matter what people think or say about whatever you do, just do it and maybe people will listen.

by Tyler Price


Lillian Lovingood November 27, 2012 at 8:41 pm

As a fan of the band Cake, I was very interested in your article because the band Listener has a similar style. I don’t see how Dan Smith would be considered as anything less than a singer because his raspy suond makes him unique and the music makes up for a lack of chorus or anything else that is captured through singing. His talking music style makes it easy to understand every word he says and get lost in the poetic lyrics. Your response to “Wooden Heart” and “Falling in Love With Glaciers” was totally relevent to a lot of the things we have gone over in our class. Humanity has already taken it’s toll on the environment because indeed, it is easier to destroy it than it is to rebuild it. One reccomendation that I would make is to put in more sources, sometimes Wikipedia is not necessarily a reputable source.
On a side note, Dan Smith totally sounds and looks like Earl from My Name is Earl.

Kyra Lewis November 27, 2012 at 6:10 pm

This was a very interesting article. I love that you can really pay attention to Listener’s lyrics and words (even their name makes it clear of their intention), since you aren’t distracted by the sound and details of a musician’s voice. I am a huge fan of spoken word poetry, and I love it when I see a band like this merge poetry and music. Your writing was clear and to the point, but also let some personality in (i.e. “Go ahead, I’ll wait). I’m so glad I read this, I’m sure I’ll be listening to them a lot in the future. Great job!

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