Listener
Whispermoon
Mush
2003
C

there’s something so depressing about capable. Listener’s debut record for Mush Records is exactly that- extremely talented, promising, capable, good. But nothing more. And should we be asking more? Perhaps this is as good as it gets, something forgettable outside of its genre constrictions, something that conforms exactly to a genre’s stereotypes with slight variations that distinguish it, something that’s just there.


Let’s review some songs just to make sure:


“You’re So Underground” contains vinyl crackles denoting samples from authentic vinyl records. An acoustic guitar sample moves slowly underneath a hard-hitting, yet lazy, drum loop, while Listener raps over the backing in a monotone about the perils of mainstream success.


“eMotional” contains a stringed instrument (that may or may not be a guitar) sample moving slowly underneath a hard-hitting, yet lazy, drum loop, while Listener raps over the backing in a monotone about the modern condition and the perils of being an independent rapper.


“Train Song” contains a Just Blaze-esque vocal sample lying naked underneath a guitar sample that moves slowly underneath a hard-hitting, yet lazy, drum loop, while Listener raps over the backing in a monotone about talking to God in a train station.


“Decadence” contains a guitar sample that moves slowly underneath a hard-hitting, yet lazy, drum loop, while Listener raps over the backing in a monotone about the probable impossibility of rapping making a difference in the world.


And there are more that basically fit this general template, which makes the album seem far longer than it actually is. It’s not that Listener shouldn’t be commended for his work here- as far as this sort of hip-hop goes, it’s extremely solid. It’s that Listener has made something that people can use as background music just as easily as it can be used for intense listening.


In contrast, we have groups of artists like Anticon that push boundaries, for better or worse, and have crafted extremely identifiable personalities. Why?’s the guy with the afro, Doseone’s the one with the extremely nasal voice, Odd Nosdam’s the one that uses the wacky samples from obscure records. Listener, however, slides neatly into a space already occupied by Buck65, Sole and Alias- the confessional, incredibly introspective, yet defiantly literal and narrative rapper with semi lo-fi production that makes heads nods, but refuses to allow bodies to bounce. It’s perhaps the curse of underground hip-hop- there’s nothing inherently wrong with this sort of emo rap. But there’s not that much exciting about it either.


Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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