A band that dubs itself Listenlisten, often written with two exclamation points no less, presents itself as one that makes bold statements. It doesn’t just politely ask for attention, it demands it, beckoning with a carnival barker’s twisted cry. While plenty of punctuation-happy bands have fizzled under the weight of their own twee-pop exuberance, Listenlisten makes a compelling twang from the get-go, and never lets up on their gothic folk intensity. The Houston-based trio plays a rustic and sinister brand of Americana, one looming with funereal dread while set ablaze from plucked banjos and pounded piano keys. It’s old-timey and creepy, and because of that, it’s a sonic treat.
Listenlisten’s second album Hymns From Rhodesia is an expansive and ghoulish album, the title itself a reference to the former name of Zimbabwe. Within the gorgeously designed album art are numerous references to imperialism and African history, from the reprint of DeBeers founder Cecil Rhodes’ colonialist first will, typographically arranged in the shape of Africa, to prints from anthropologist Paul du Chaillu’s book “Lost In the Jungle,” to hidden references to Halliburton and the crest of the Chartered Company. In spite of the varied references to the dark history of colonialism in Africa, in style, it’s very much a spooky brand of Americana, one that Listen! Listen! commands with a ghostly kind of majesty.
Hymns From Rhodesia opens with the ominous, yet brief “Prologue,” which is but a teaser for the epic “Funeral Dirge; Burial Service,” which sets the tone for this dark epic. The group slowly builds up a haunting waltz, layering upright bass, banjo, violin and horns, while singing, as if narrating a funeral procession, “When the day of toil is done/ when the race of life is run/ Father grant thy weary one/ Rest for evermore!” If the band does let more light into their songs, it’s only temporary. “On A Rope” may sound more sprightly and upbeat, but if “I came in this world on a rope/ and I’ll leave this world on a rope” is any indication, it’s as bleak as they come. “Safe Home, Safe Home In Port” has a bouncy, acoustic guitar melody, and a bright flash of trumpet, underscoring Ben Godfrey’s list of fading grievances. And “On The Water,” soaring and heroic, is an emotional rush of a song, reaching a breathtaking climax with each chorus.
Listenlisten is a band that commands the listener’s attention not just through their stunning songwriting, but through their impeccable attention to detail. From the gold-stamped artwork, and various historical quotes, to the intricate instrumentation within each song, Hymns From Rhodesia is an album that slowly unfolds captivating pieces of its extensive puzzle over its hour-long running time. And it may continue to unfold long after that as well.
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MP3: “A Little”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.