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Daughn Gibson, ‘Me Moan’ – Album Review

Sub Pop

In Daughn Gibson’s publicity bio, it reads “The only real starting point for the music of Daughn Gibson is Daughn Gibson.” Essentially, he is an original, and listening to either his first full-length, ‘All Hell,’ or his Sub Pop debut, ‘Me Moan,’ will make it tough to dispute that point.

But really, originality depends a lot on where you are standing, and the branding usually stems from people’s inability to find adequate comparisons. Sometimes, the artist’s reference points are simply too obscure or well-hidden. On ‘All Hell,’ Gibson’s music sounded like the road — fitting because he was once a trucker — with the vision often dark, menacing, and perverse. Combining sampled old records with his anchored-to-the-bottom-of-the-sea baritone, Gibson justified mention of Lynch, Waits and Dirty Beaches, but those parallels have little do with Gibson, and throwing them out is like grasping for straws with an artist who’s really drifting alone at sea.

On follow-up ‘Me Moan,’ some of the unsettling nature of ‘All Hell’ has been alleviated, perhaps on purpose, as Gibson seems to have meant ‘All Hell’ to be more balanced than it was perceived. But part of this change comes from the new album’s production, with increased live instrumentation combining with the samples Gibson is known for to create rich sonic worlds. Still, the gripping nature of ‘All Hell’ was partially due to that crackle of needle on vinyl that seemed ever present. More than that, even, Gibson was the master of his terrain, and on ‘Me Moan,’ with so many directions to explore, it is a little easier for him to get lost — and hopefully emerge all the wiser for the experience.

On ‘The Pisgee Nest,’ a slide guitar plays backwards, or just strangely, throughout, with sampled ambient textures added in for a muddying effect and spare percussion that is hardly noticeable. With the guitar dominating, Gibson skimps on the melody, seeming too busy coordinating everything else to remember he is the heart of his music, and without a strong Gibson, the experience is less impactful.

Still, to focus on the flawed songs on ‘Me Moan,’ and there are a handful, would be misrepresenting the album. It misses because it’s a slight step backwards, but only a slight one. Lead single ‘The Sound of Law,’ on the other hand, is a tensely pulled, expertly arranged blood-sucker, with the drums and electric guitar lead raising Gibson to levels his old recording style wouldn’t have allowed for. ‘Kissin on the Blacktop’ is Gibson sounding like he’s having fun. Though disconcerting, it’s a surprisingly appealing experiment, with the bottle-neck wails overshadowing the songwriter’s own work, proving it possible for Gibson to let the music dominate and still come out with a winning track.

Closer ‘Into the Sea’ is the best example on ‘Me Moan’ of what Gibson is capable of. The samples and the live instrumentation work as compliments, or foils, bringing out each other’s character to the extent that Gibson can simply shut up and let them duke it out.

But there are too many cluttered, confused songs — like the meandering ‘You Don’t Fade’ and the gimmicky, bagpipe-infused ‘Mad Ocean’ — for ‘Me Moan’ to achieve the effectiveness of Gibson’s debut. Sophomore slumps are a real thing, but they’re rare for artists like Daughn Gibson, whose first album flew pretty far under the radar, and who really only needed to deliver a more realized version of ‘All Hell.’ Instead, ‘Me Moan’ feels like a sprinter running for distance, essentially trying for too much, too fast.

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