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Listener - Whispermoon

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Artist: Listener

Album: Whispermoon

Label: Mush

Review date: Oct. 2, 2003

Listener’s performance on Deepspace5’s The Night We Called It A Day nearly floored me. Few times had an emcee displayed a level of passion mixed with a thorough knowledge of where he wanted his words to lead and ultimately stand for. What Listener does, and does well, is observe the world that surrounds him, using his Christian roots as a road to understanding and letting his lyrics chronicle his philosophical journeys. His debut entitled Whispermoon is hip hop to the bone, a rarity for a Mush release, but one that still manages to surprise and fascinate as much as anything in their back catalog.

First and foremost, the term Christian shouldn’t deter those that are turned off by the thought of religious music. True, there’s a lot of bad Christian hip hop out there, but even with the current flood of unacceptable music that uses God as an explanation for everything and attempts to persuade the listener to think the same, there are always a few notables, particularly Mars Ill, the duo of manchild and Dust, and members of the aforementioned Deepspace5 crew. All of them in fact seem pretty grounded in their beliefs, never overwhelming the listener, which is what gives their music a refreshing slice of humanity and humility. The first track “FYI” sees this approach at full efficacy; Dust’s beat hits hard as the members of Deepspace make clear the driving force behind the music that they make, and ultimately sets the tone for the entire album.

From that point forward Listener embarks on a timeless quest for self-discovery, “Ways of the Wind” doing a wonderful job pinning the dilemma(s) that constantly haunt(s) him. “When will I get to segregate myself from…/ what can I say to represent my voice I’m…/ what do I hear that opens up my mind some…/ who can see me and tell me I’m normal I’m just…” These are the questions that perpetually hover above Listener and the listeners’ heads throughout the disc, constantly probed and eventually answered, or at least partially. Simply put, Whispermoon is a highly personal venture, one that transcends Deespace5 and the early Labklik projects that helped solidify Listener’s name and it’s for this reason that fans may be taken aback by his new approach to music. There is a lesser sense of outward urgency in his tone and delivery, but rather a voice of observance, contemplation, and reflection.

And it can all become a very intense experience. Every word tends to float long enough for recognition before they all sink into an unsettling pile of endless dreams, worry, obsession….loneliness, a cycle that Whispermoon never really escapes, and yet, it continues to flourish. As contradicting as it may seem, these bottomless emotions that fill Listener’s notebook are precisely what allows Whispermoon to breathe hope into a cold world, and it takes tracks like “You Will Be My Music” and “It’s a Lonely World” to realize just how cold it can get. On “Train Song”, Listener steps outside himself and narrates an encounter with a solitary man at a train station, exchanging thoughts and facts of life. “He said I’ve been waiting here forever just dying in my skin, and the only reason you’re living life is because you’re curious what’ll happen in the end,” the old man says. The anecdote is conceptual brilliance, and serves as a major artery of inspiration for the tracks surrounding it.

In such a thought-provoking environment, production can become an even more difficult task as sounds must be content augmenting rather than dominating the soundscape. Beauty is one of Whispermoon’s virtues, not only in the Listener’s level of poeticism, but in the sheer delicacy of the production as well. Dust handles the majority, shifting gears to compliment Listener’s inflection by maintaining the thick, grainy, and hard remnants of classic boom bap while borrowing sweet melodies and heartfelt samples to further ingrain the mood.

It’s hard to grasp Whispermoon by its end. It’s an exhausting journey, and commendable on Listener’s part to not only throw everything out on the table, but to confront everything, regardless of whether he’s taking on himself or some remote emotion. It sinks deep and resonates in your body, doing its best to find the Listener in all of us.

And no matter who you are, it succeeds.

By Brian Ho

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