June 30, 2013

Album Review: Daughn Gibson's Me Moan

Contrary to what T. Swift's success tells you, country music in its most purist form rarely ever sounds fashionable or concerned with keeping up with modern music trends, but on his 2012 listmaking debut All Hell, truckdriver-turned-crooning badass Daughn Gibson merged his love of Johnny Cash and Lee Hazelwood onto the same open highway of boundless limitations experimental pop provides to near-seamless results. With his genre cross-crossing striking intrigue and few comparisons with today's indie rock landscape, it didn't take very long for the Pennsylvanian singer-songwriter -- whose first release was put out on the small hometown label White Denim -- to find himself being courted by wider distribution offerings with deeper pockets, eventually landing him with the endlessly successful indie powerhouse Sub Pop. Me Moan is his first effort at his new home, and while country's past and synth-pop's present influences on Gibson remain as familiar as they did on All Hell, the dark, burly baritone's future-thinking of seeing both evolve together is both rewarded and disadvantaged by it larger scale production techniques.

Let's first talk about the elephant in the room that makes its presence pretty obvious from the moment you hit play. A mysterious man who sounds handsomely sexy and frequently finds himself mixed up in danger or just with the wrong woman is Gibson's M.O., and on Me Moan, his tough guy persona that presents him as this stubbly, western shirt, beat-up jeans and boots-wearin' anti-hero begins to shed itself as more of a  caricature rather than an earnest consumer of the past. As high gloss production and an increased focus on electro-pop over Gibson's country-fried roots surface in the album's first half, so does the gimmickry behind the crooner's style that wasn't as immediately obvious on All Hell. Overproduction works against the album's most accessible listens, which lasso synthetic loops and chugging snares around menacing beats and downtuned twang just fine, but also have a way of making Gibson's whiskey-stained vocals warble over into acquired taste territory ("The Sound of Law," "Phantom Rider," "You Don't Fade.") On the other hand, country at forefront doesn't always work either, as "Kissin' On the Blacktop"'s honky tonk flair is a bumpy Elvis impersonation of what it might have sounded like if the King had he lived to see the '80s.

In Gibson's defense, less turns out to be more on Me Moan. Midway through the LP, "Franco"'s minimalist guitar pinches and sultry romance in the vain of the xx favors his dusky voice, where as retreating away from computer-fabricated pop in closers "All My Days" and "Into the Sea," and back into the a tried-and-true six-stringer takes your attention away from Gibson's sharp lip curlings. "Mad Ocean," a standout anomaly in the bunch, ventures worldly with careening bagpipes that are more Big Country than just "country," and when the latter is given more space to breathe around a looming cloud of electronic ambiance, the end results naturally join at the hip. Altogether, Me Moan as a whole may not be the cohesive end-all to Daughn Gibson's ambitious attempt to reconcile American gothic's buried bones with today's modernized fashion pop. An overzealous use of higher grade production than that heard on his decrepit debut All Hell reveals much of Daughn Gibson's sonic mysteries to wear more like a mask than a form-fitting outfit, but in the considerable moments his plight to modernize old country doesn't try too hard, you hear the potential for his ideas to come together without hitting as many bumps down the trucker's highway someday.

Daughn Gibson's Me Moan will be released June 9, 2013 on Sub Pop Records.

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