You’ll never hear the sound of yearning like you will through the sonic lens of Daughn Gibson. The one-time trucker from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, is a new signee to Sub Pop, and this week, he releases his second LP, Me Moan, his first for the label. Gibson is a curiosity – his Sub Pop bio reads like a pulp novel. But not altogether unlike James Murphy, the product of Gibson’s music is a perfect representation and culmination of his life experience thus far, and if the track record of his 2012 debut, All Hell, and the fantastic new Me Moan counts for anything, I’m guessing this will continue to be the case in the future. Gibson is a post-modern cowboy in a world without a wild west or a final frontier, and his music is a darkly surreal (even Lynchian) interpretation of our modern times. With Me Moan, Daughn Gibson expands his promising catalogue with a challenging but ultimately greatly rewarding piece of experimental Americana.
The first time you hear Daughn Gibson, you don’t really know what’s going on. On the best cuts from his debut All Hell like “Tiffany Lou” and “Lookin’ Back on ’99“, Gibson lands somewhere between Johnny Cash, Washed Out, and Clams Casino, mixing classic country western style and baritone with fuzzy, sample-driven disco grooves. The result is jarring – Gibson sounds like nothing else around. It’s a juxtaposition that puts Gibson in a league of his own, for better and for worse. The squeamish may not give it enough time to settle in, but once the haze of obscurity lowers from Gibson’s sound, things get interesting. Because most fringe bands use obscurity for shock value, their draw fades quickly. But Gibson isn’t trying to prove he’s some badass cowboy – he just is. Thus, his sound shouldn’t surprise anyone. You just need to get on his level to really get it. In finding his new home on Sub Pop, Gibson’s dynamic has gained some mass. The tracks have quadrupled in size and impact, and Gibson’s croon soars clear and crisp. With Me Moan it looks and feels like Gibson has created a record that fulfills 100% of the vision he set out with. Tip of the cap to Sub Pop for that.
Me Moan explores treacherous sonic territories that few would choose to venture. “The Pisgee Nest” is a border-hopping blues-disco mashup whose sliding guitars take a hint from Yeasayer. “The Right Signs” is an American 80s ballad in Springstein style squeezed through a clipping, sample-driven filter. Then, “Kissing On The Blacktop” is a contemporary country track with its parts gone industrial. The hammer-on country hook of the chorus is met across the face with a skittering electronic drum that can put you totally off kilter the first or second listen. But never once does Gibson pull the rug completely out from under you, because once again, shock value isn’t his top priority here. He’s just been around the block enough to know what he likes and where he wants to go, and by limiting the shock effect and maximizing the sonic landscape before him, Gibson has guaranteed a good supply of weird set before him, without a lot of predictable missteps out on the horizon. This is entirely to his credit.
Given his widespread life experience across thirty-two years, Gibson comes to the stage of solo musical endeavors with a sonic and thematic foundation. To accompany his bizarre, wild west musical landscape, Gibson spins stories like a roadhouse country veteran. “Phantom Rider” tops a toned down house track with a cowboy ghost story, like a disco update to “Long Black Veil”. On the absolutely gorgeous “Mad Ocean”, Gibson documents the exciting road head of him on top of an expansive rock anthem disguised as a chilled out “Clint Eastwood” nod. One of the album’s obvious highlights comes in the form of “Franco”, a piece where the cryptic veil falls just a bit and we see Gibson with his heart on his sleeve. “Throw it all away, outside the door. Baby, you come out when you’ve had enough. Give us a way for two lips to collide. I wish we had a kid who never wanted to die.” The unknown cowboy’s destiny is a pretty regular theme of Gibson’s, and here, he gives those of us content with the day to day grind a way to relate: find a love that keeps you on your toes and keeps you evolving day to day, and find a source of youth that reminds you of what life looks like lived to the fullest. Though you might be distracted by the sheer size and scope of Gibson’s sonic impact, don’t forget to go back and digest the lyrics. They are cowboy wisdom, but wisdom nonetheless.
Me Moan isn’t the easiest record you’ll pick up this year, but it will push and pull you more than most. Gibson closes the record with “Into The Sea”, the most straightforward track of the bunch. It’s a point A to point B 70s rock groove with a plethora of complex instrumentation on piano, guitar, organ, and some others. Here, Gibson shies away from the darkly contemplative wanderer we see on the previous ten tracks – here, he knows exactly what lies ahead. “Crawling through the lion’s den again, and I don’t know if the lion will keep to himself, again.” The only promise is uncertainty, and the past only does so much to predict the future. The lyric is actually a fantastic metaphor for Gibson’s work as a whole. His musical palette is very post-modern in texture and tambre, but never does Gibson sacrifice beauty and majesty for quirkiness. Me Moan is a record you’ll want a dozen listens of before you make up your mind about it, and then a hundred more to dissect and apply to your own story as you venture on up the road ahead.
Me Moan is out this week on Sub Pop Records on CD and vinyl. Gibson will tour in support of the record, and you will be able to see him this year at Capitol Hill Block Party on Friday night July 26 in Neumos. As we saw with his set opening for Yeasayer last year, it will be a trippy, captivating experience you don’t want to miss.