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"Hype Monitor: listenlisten, neon indian, ramona falls"

The Buzz: Finally, a band name we can believe in! Mysterious and borderline un-Googleable Houston collective proves expert at putting the ghosts back into Goth-folk. Their upcoming full-length, Hymns from Rhodesia, is a spellbinding collection of country-gospel songs haunted by loneliness and loss. It’s the kind of music cowboys might hear in the distance as they stagger dumbly to their doom. And because they use a bevy of instruments, piling on piano and trumpet and violin, Listenlisten manage to be a four-person group that sounds like a 12-person group.

Listen If: You’ve given up hope on that Neutral Milk Hotel reunion, or are looking for an even spookier version of Will Oldham.

Key Track: “Safe Home, Safe Home In Port,” where a baleful trumpet clears the way for decidedly somber sentiments. - Rolling Stone

"Hymns From Rhodesia (Album Review)"

Call it Songs in the Key of Death: after finding an old book of church hymns from the mid-19th century, Houston singer-guitarist Ben Godfrey retooled the songs to make them modern-day dirges for some kind of impending apocalypse. And with spiritual meditations on war ("A Little"), back-breaking labor ("Funeral Dirge/Burial Service"), and decaying flesh ("The Body"), these gothic folk-rock tunes prove that the things that scare us haven’t changed much since the days when the Devil still wore pantaloons.

The music is brand-new, though Godfrey and his bandmates — brassman Shane Patrick, pianist Elton Graves, and drummer Jose Chavez — craft gorgeous folk-rock so antiquey and memory-filled, it sounds like it’s gilded in the dust blown off an heirloom music box. Banjos, horns, sleigh bells and euphoniums come together for eerie waltzes and Appalachian-style rave-ups, while basement-junk flotsam and jetsam adds even more character — a little hammer and anvil plunking here, some heavy chains rattling there. All the while, Godfrey’s strained-note yowl fills up with uneasy rapture. "Pilgrim, yes, arise, look round thee," he warns on "Watchman, Tell Me (Pt. 1)," a song about the Second Coming. "Light is breaking, breaking, in the skies!" If he sounds slightly mournful, it’s the good kind of sad — a sympathetic voice to guide you through a crash-landing at the end of the world. - eMusic

"Denton Show Preview"

listenlisten are a solid band from Houston who remind me of a lot of indie folk touchstones, particularly Okkervil River, with a horn section that sort of sounds like that found on Samamidon's latest recordings. Lot's of classic Americana and bluegrass influences can be heard too, as well as a distinct Pac NW folkie sound that comes from God knows where (think recent K Records stuff). Not entirely different from Theater Fire, but with vocals that sound more urgent and unsteady. - WE SHOT JR

"Hymns From Rhodesia (5 Star Album Review)"

A subtle but all-powerful force has been preventing me from reviewing this record, with its pretty gold-foil stamping and baskerville-style album art/fonts. At first I felt I needed more time, as Hymns From Rhodesia (listen there ---->) is super-loooong and super-involved.

Then, I lost the damn thing in my endless Pile and didn't recover it from the wreckage until just the other day. Hey, it happens; I'll thank you to give me the benefit of the doubt on this one, sir/ma'am.

Besides, there's no time like the present to make up for misdeeds. As such I present to you Listenlisten's Hymns From Rhodesia, an earnest, gothic-(NOT goth; big difference)tinged album with a story to tell so detailed and opaque it almost gets religious.

We're talking biblical proportions here, people; songs about death, life, redemption, colonization, humans and apes, pilgrims, "golden" cities and much, much more. Comparisons seem so vulgar when so much work has gone into the final product -- did I mention HFR comes with a classy little hymn book? -- but

I'm hearing a lot of different ghosts in these songs, namely some Neutral Milk Hotel, Sufjan Stevens, Rock Plaza Central, Deer Tick, John Darnielle / Mountain Goats; they're all in there, serving as signposts but never getting in the way of the message.

Which is ... I don't know, actually (though being unwillingly/unwittingly colonized seems to have a stake in the story, as a quote about the creation of a European Empire, taken from Cecil Rhodes' original will, opens the first page of the sleeve art).

With so many records to review it's nearly impossible to figure out the gist of every Concept Album (if that is its real name) or otherwise. That said, the music flaunts enough wrinkles to keep you interested long enough to figure it all out.

You get ringing pianos, banjo, violins both creaky and smooth, yelped vocals often doubled up, a shit-load of trumpet -- that's where a lot of the NMH creeps in -- and drums that expertly lead the whole shebang to the edge of a cliff, only to veer back to flat land just in time.

Most of all, Hymns From Rhodesia is cinematic and direly Serious; intense; urgent. It's the sort of music that starts leaking onto playlists as fall slowly swallows summer with its giant, autumn-leaf-spitting maw.

And with that, I truly know my summer is over, and so I leave you with my favorite vocal line, accompanied by a stoic photo of a man carrying what appears to be a leaf-y (olive?) branch back to his town:

"Pilgrim in that golden city,
Seated in the jasper throne,
Zion's king, arrayed in beauty,
Reigns in peace from zone to zone;
There, on verdant hills and mountains,
Where the golden sunbeams play,
Purling streams, and crystal fountains,
Sparkle in th' eternal day."

Holy lord ... - The Gumshoe Grove (Tiny Mix Tapes writer)

"Hymns From Rhodesia (Album Review)"

I love you Austin, but recently some of the most exciting new "Austin music" has been outsourced to Houston, namely to Listenlisten’s new album Hymns From Rhodesia. The interplay of different textures on the album is on par with seasoned professionals, and the constant sway between studio-sheen and backroom live recordings is surprisingly smooth. The result is an album that immediately feels human and relatable, but is dressed up in all the right ways.

Let me just say this: There’s banjo. A lot of Banjo. And its all good. Of course, that’s one piece of the instrumentation masterpiece. Most songs begin with simple acoustic guitar, banjo or piano, and slowly draw in a host of both traditional and more novelty (you know, like violins and stuff) instruments. And leading this brigade are the haunting layered vocals, calling indecently from somewhere offstage (think Man Man done right). The general effect is a drawn out, more acoustic version of something like Austin’s the Lovely Sparrows. Which is to say the album is entirely wonderful in every way, and that you should listen to it if you know what’s best for your soul. - Side One: Track One

"Hymns From Rhodesia (Album Review)"

It'd be beyond easy to keep referring to listenlisten as "old-timey" in terms of their sound, but the more I hear, the more of a disservice that too-easy tag seems to me to be to this band. "Old-timey" feels like it connotes a fakeness, a sort of play-acting going on, like SCA dorks at RenFest bashing at one another with padded swords before going home to cable TV and World of Warcraft.

There's none of that here. Rather, listenlisten evoke the weight of ages past in their gloomy, waltz-y, folk-y music, dragging the listener backwards and sideways to a time that maybe their grandfathers knew but which is somehow different, somehow unique in its own right. They sound like they don't meander off to watch reality TV when they finish playing, but instead pack everything up and head back out to a remote cabin in the woods where they can play 'til the wee hours of the morning undisturbed. They step past the pitfalls of shallow revivalism to grab hold of a feeling that itself sounds, well, old.

And bleak. As befits an album that draws its title from a divided, bloodied ex-colonial state now consigned to the dustbin of history, listenlisten offer very little in the way of hope, from the swooning, waltz-y "Funeral Dirge; Burial Service" all the way through to the revitalized new take on "Watchman" (from their self-titled EP). The message of Hymns is less to praise but to warn, warn that the world is a cold, cruel place from which there's only one avenue of escape.

There's an absolute fatalism here, a knowledge that death comes for everyone and could well be right around the corner. The cyclical nature of life and death is captured wonderfully in "On A Rope," a forlorn, resigned backwoods elegy that steps smoothly from the umbilical cord to the noose without much to show in-between. It starts with brutally minimal, somber vocals and guitars, then turns into a stomping, almost defiant hoedown before winding back down to the final moment before the inevitable end. Then there's the polka-ish reel of "A Little," sung from the viewpoint of a bomber pilot dropping firebombs on an unnamed city (Dresden, maybe? or some more recent horror, given the sidewise reference to a "piece of plastic with a magnetic strip"), who initially plays off the utter awfulness of what he's done but seems ready to eat his gun by the song's end.

A welcome bit of warmth here is "Safe Home, Safe Home In Port!," a delicately joyful ode to the relief of coming in from the sea, hale and whole. The whole track is an understated gem, all quiet, gentle rhythms, plaintive/cracked vocals, fingerpicked guitars, and horns. There's also the aforementioned "Watchman," which hints at the uncertainty of the night itself but feels oddly comforting. At the album's end, listenlisten bring things back up a bit, too, with "Watchman, Tell Me" parts 1 and 2, which bear little resemblance to "Watchman" but instead turn out to be sweetly poignant, countrified Appalachian folk.

Otherwise, Hymns is dark and murky and foreboding, sometimes a bit angry (as on the crashing, less-melancholy "Whoever Will") but mostly melancholy and minor-key and low. The instrumentation helps -- band members Ben Godfrey, Shane Patrick, and E. Marshall Graves play a dizzying array of instruments, from plunking banjo to drunken barroom piano to mournful trombone to church-y organ , and enlist friends to add some gorgeously orchestral strings to the affair, all of which give the album its out-of-time feel.

The album technically ends with two "Watchman, Tell Me" tracks, but as good and poignantly sweet as they are, they come off misplaced and tacked-on. For my money, skip ahead after "If I Leave" and then back to the track that truly has to be the closer, "When The Man Comes," which starts off slow but revs up into a mournful, frantic near-rocker that seems to promise salvation and redemption in spite of everything that's come before. When Godfrey, Patrick, and Marshall pound away at their instruments and howl in desperation and fear, an honest-to-God shiver runs down my spine and I start to wonder about what comes after for all of us. - Space City Rock

"New Band Alert!"

“In the early 21st century men were but beasts ravaging upon what little sustenance God could afford them. The landscape was strewn thick with remnants of a civilization lost to the wiles of a wicked tribe. The Earth pined for a return to nothingness, awaiting her inhabitants’ cataclysmic demise. Man would soon be forgotten, time having proven an expanse too perilous to traverse. And in these last breaths of a race, it came to pass that listenlisten should be formed” And so reads the band’s “official” press release. Quite fitting, actually.

Proudly flying the freak-folk flag, this ragtag bunch from Houston play an assortment of instruments, ranging from piano to banjo and everything in between. With a spirit that conjures images of deep, dark woods from a bygone era, listenlisten’s sound is communal, often featuring a chorus of chanting voices bolstered by gently plucked guitars, swelling horns, and swirling strings. The band’s debut full-length album, Hymns From Rhodesia, bristles with a tasty combination of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Balkan bent and Incredible String Band’s Renaissance ramblings. It’s an adventurous set that reveals added surprises with each listen. - JamsBio Magazine

"listenlisten Has Split Personality (Experimental Folk-Rock band has odd beauty)"

There are few more obnoxious and uncomfortable experiences in a large group of mixed company than the icebreaker. Yet that’s how I found listenlisten, a local band that creates a sort of experimental folk rock that can be creepy and pretty in equal measure.

At a recent BandCamp seminar at Caroline Collective I was standing next to a stranger named Ben Godfrey when we were ordered to introduce ourselves and trade some info. Fortunately his band name was also a command and thus easy to remember.

The songs on listenlisten do more unfolding than they do driving. The Winter of Two Thousand and Five charts a droning course with intertwined guitar (Godfrey) and banjo (bandmate Shane Patrick) before a drum kicks in out of nowhere and some brass joins the fray. Then it gets deadly silent again.

There aren’t solos to be found, nor standard verse-chorus-bridge constructions. Patrick plays most of the percussion, which appears sporadically but dramatically. Godfrey puts it best: “He plays drums like an instrument and not to keep a beat.”

Godfrey and Patrick started the band 2½ years ago, with Joe Joyner playing viola. Godfrey was a fan of old, gothic folk music like Dock Boggs.

“Old, scary music like that is my big love,” he says. “I’ll try to emulate that any way I can.” He said the other two pushed the sound toward experimental rock. “Our sound just evolved from each of us bringing these influences.”

The band is mastering a new album, which should be available next year. It features Joyner, though he left the band. New drummer Jose Chavez and multi-instrumentalist Marshall Graves are also in the fold (all four players trade off instruments through the performance). Listenlisten will play what’s likely to be its last show of the year tonight at the Caroline Collective space where it’ll share a strong bill with three creative and very worthy acts: Austin’s Peter and the Wolf and Houston bands Wild Moccasins and Sew What. - Houston Chronicle

"Hymns From Rhodesia (Album Review)"

The precise relation of Listenlisten’s stunning new album to Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe), I can’t say for sure; the Houston group’s relation to “hymns,” however, is studied at extraordinary length on “Hymns from Rhodesia,” an album at times eerily reminiscent of the meandering low-fi hymns one might find on an early Microphones record, and at other times narrowly avoiding all out disaster (but, you know, in a good way).

The haunting waltz “Prologue” briefly introduces us initially-naïve listeners to the gothic pastoral scene the album channels, followed immediately by the equally downbeat (and three-beat) “Funeral Dirge; Burial Service.” Immediately we feel like a lost band of travelers, stumbling in on unknown small-town horrors, the worst of which only begin with funerals. And it’s definitely raining at this point. With the lucid (read: hymn-like) instrumentation, drawing on both clanging pianos and picked banjos, not to mention an appropriately-disheveled horn section, the problem now is that it’s likely impossible for us to turn back.

The otherwise deeply-depressing “On A Rope” (“I came in this world on a rope and I’ll leave this world on a rope / it loops round my neck and dips down the back / and I’ll hang on, hang on for hope.”) breaks into a furious stomping section, propelled forward unsteadily by cheerier banjo lines and a hundred feet pounding on the wood. The instruments hold together shakily, yet the mood is so perfectly reflective of the lyrics and overall theme so far, I doubt bringing a metronome into the room would have helped one bit.

This album is decidedly not for the faint of heart. And although songs like “Safe Home, Safe Home In Port” usher in a marginally brighter mood with doubled-up horn lines like a side-show version of Sufjan Stevens, most other songs, especially “Whoever Will,” could very well have made up “Hymns from Transylvania.” Make no mistake, Listenlisten have this mood down to a science, or at least an art form – each little piece of this huge puzzle of instrumentation is crafted precisely to give an air of the spontaneous, like a true hymn that materializes out of nowhere on one of those travel shows to “unknown” corners of the earth (like Romania).

As “Watchman, Tell Me” (Parts 1 & 2) close up the album on a relatively up-beat note, you may realize that nearly an hour has passed since the mysterious first beckoning of “Hymns of Rhodesia,” and indeed for the listener willing to sit back and take the ride, the album can have truly disturbing effects on the imagination (again, in a good way). But be forewarned, this is not an album that’s going to invite you in, weary traveler, and cook you a big pop stew of power chords and synthesizers - you’re going to have to find a way in yourself. - Austin Sound

"Aftermath: listenlisten's Extended Family Reunion/Hymns CD Release at Mango's"

Finally, it was time for the serious, somber oldest brother to hit the stage, and listenlisten certainly didn't disappoint. After all, it's this band's beautifully melancholic funeral dirges that brought us all out on this night. Featuring the perpetual motion machine that is Robert Ellis as the new fifth guy on lap steel and fiddle (Seriously, does he ever sleep or rest?), the four men of listenlisten put on a veritable clinic on how to pay homage to the past while recreating it for a postmodern audience for whom nothing is new.

Sure, you can refer to these guys as anachronistic old souls who are seemingly wise beyond their collective years (and you'd be right), but we would contend that there is a deep, attractive power to what this band is doing. Despite the nearly overwhelming bleakness of tone that is the hallmark of Hymns From Rhodesia, these are lovely tunes that want to draw the listener into a warm embrace.

While never shying away from the fact that this life can be a really cold, dark, unforgiving place, there is nothing alienating about this music made by listenlisten - it's all about calling you in from the cold and paying said cold a healthy respect for what it can do to the unsuspecting traveler.

During the latter half of the band's time onstage, in which romping, stomping tunes were placed alongside weepy ballads, another of our friends leaned over to us to declare that it was almost unsettling to hear the crowd sing along so lustily to songs so obviously about death, dying and hanging. We concurred with him, but replied that we felt that to be the strength of listenlisten's music - once you were aware of the ills present in this life, you are free to sing loudly and live life to its fullest.

To put it another way, the old-school, front-porch-sitting family affair that was the listenlisten CD Release Show for Hymns From Rhodesia was an amazing night of life-affirming, life-giving music. Granted, if you were at this show and proceeded to get drunk on $2 PBR tallboys or.$3 cups of Frozen Black Death, then you probably felt the music encouraging you to dance and get crazy.
The trick is, we'd both be right. - Houston Press


The "Wood" EP (2007)

Hymns From Rhodesia (2009)

"Safe Home, Safe Home In Port!" Single (2009)

"On The Water" Single/Music Video (2009)

Cooyamintad Compilation (2010)



Critics have recently been calling listenlisten's musical style "anarchana" -- a name that hints at both its old-timey Americana roots and its anti-government sympathies. Their haunting new album, Hymns From Rhodesia, takes the lyrics from old church songs -- some dating back to the 19th century -- and reimagines them as modern-day hymns for tough times, whether it's getting through the Recession or simply dealing with the wreckage of getting old. Musically it's not a huge stray from acts like Mount Eerie, Smog, O'Death, Samamidon & Neutral Milk Hotel.