When I first read the title of this album, I interpreted the phrase as some kind of anti-folk statement (as in “No one listens to the Levon Helm-led The Band anymore”). But that’s not the case at all. In reality, Damnwells frontman Alex Dezen envisioned the album’s title as an ironic “statement of general malaise” about the state of modern music listeners. In the press release, he notes, “The truth is bands are more empowered now than ever before because of the direct connection they can make with fans.”
If any band would know firsthand about that direct artist-to-listener connection, it would be The Damnwells, long-haul indie rockers who funded the recording of this album — their fourth full-length since 2003 — with the proceeds generated from Pledgemusic, a “fan-funded music platform.”
For the most part, The Damnwells’ generous fans have made a solid return on their investment. The songs on No One Listens are crisp, tuneful, and cathartic — big enough for an arena, detailed enough for close headphone inspection. Dezen’s forced, stuffy croon is an acquired taste — like a bubblegum Jeff Tweedy with less authentic rasp — but it hardly matters when the hooks are sharp. That’s more often than not the case, like on the muscular, rocking title track, which is outfitted with a candy-coated, tambourine-shaker chorus and one hell of a synth breakdown.
Unfortunately, Dezen’s wordy aspirations are sometimes detrimental to the songs’ catchiness. The low point comes with “The Great Unknown,” a generic, fingerpicked acoustic anthem (seemingly designed for a network TV drama montage) that awkwardly references both “The Star Spangled Banner” and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” before name-dropping Jesus Christ and Hare Krishna.
The Damnwells are their best when they’re not trying so damn hard.