Listener – “Time is a Machine”

Cameron Barham weighs in on Listener’s newest album, ‘Time is a Machine’. The band is set to headline the Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta on 7/27

Cameron Barham

out of 10

Time is a Machine
June 18th, 2013
Self Released

“The neat patterns and value and order with which we organize and solidify our experience are confused and garbled by the fool. Sense is turned into nonsense, order into disarray, the unquestionable into the doubtful…everything comes out wrong: the speech, the logic, the gestures, the decorum. Yet in this wrongness is a rightness of another sort. In this foolishness is another level of wisdom.” –

Conrad Hyers from The Comic Vision and the Christian Faith: A Celebration of Life and Laughter

There are artists who are uniquely gifted to both unsettle and comfort us, to seem utterly absurd and yet make perfect sense when thoughtfully considered, who twist words into riddles only to make the message clearer. Dan Smith of Listener is an artist of this ilk; Dan Smith is just this type of fool. Just as the fool, jester, and tricksters of old served as the disarming means by which commentary of grand meaning could be slipped past and into the listener’s consciousness, Smith’s talk music travels these same synapses.

Time is a Machine is the follow-up to the brilliantly poetic Wooden Heart and is the 3rd full length record in what is becoming quite an eclectic and nuanced catalog spanning the creative spectrum. This album quickly draws comparisons to mewithyou’s Catch For Us the Foxes and Brother, Sister which is quite a compliment given the weight of both of those works. Dan Smith, vocals and bass, Kris Rochelle, percussion, and Christin Nelson, guitars, travelled farther west to record with John O’Brien at Music Box Studios in California.

The influence is felt immediately on the album’s opener, “Eyes to the Ground for Change”, which features surf rock inspired guitar breaking through like sunshine amidst Smith’s musings: “And that makes for a rough start but at least it’s a start. Dear Friends: please don’t consider joy a weakness. We’re all survivors in some way. Either on a worn out road to get there or through some kind of uniqueness.” Before the pressure is let up, “Good News First” rushes in an aural inspirational bum-rush as Smith declares: “Dear survivors and future survivors: You are all amazing. You are important. Flawed and scarred on purpose. I love you all because you’re perfect, and with all the rest of me. Losing makes you grow. Do you want to lose with me? Growing helps you win. Who wants to lose with me? Good news first. Good news first to numb the pain. (and on my best days so I can take it).”

“Not Today” finds Smith more reflective and subdued before giving way to brilliant waves of reverb and sound that manage to carry the song to a gentle conclusion. “Tornadoes” spins into what is arguably one of the most complete tracks in the entire impressive Listener body of work, “I Think It’s Called Survival.” Smith desperately unleashes line upon line as the music shifts to compliment each metaphor. The bar continues to be set high with “Everything Sleeps” as the song builds to a climax before exploding forth with: “Wait! Listen, I will try and choke out some kind of mystery. We might not all get sleep, but we will all be changed, and then death won’t be able to count a victory.”

The album comes to a close with “There Are Wrecking Balls Inside of Us” which brings the album full circle before gently closing with “It Will All Happen the Way It Should” where Smith foolishly risks offering encouragement to those who can no longer find any.

Time is a Machine is a complex work that manages to confront the listener both musically and poetically demanding that we lean in closer to try to understand what comes off as a tangle of lyrical images that somehow manage to clearly say that hope and healing are not merely for fools. These riddles turn out to be wise words in this age of shifting sand and uncertainty for so many both now and in the future.

If you would like to experience Listener live (and you should given my previous experience right here in Macon in the basement of an old church on the East Side), they are playing at the Drunken Unicorn in Atlanta on Saturday, July 27th at 10:30. For a taste, check out this video for “Good News First”:

[youtube id=6sRgaNrFmuM]