Comparable to the lo-fi fuzz of Dirty Beaches, whose nostalgic efforts sound like an apt accompaniment to a drugged-out road trip across America with Hunter S. Thompson and David Lynch, Daughn Gibson’s stylistic arsenal is deeply intoxicating and unerringly sincere. One of Gibson’s most recognizable aspects is his deeply somber voice, which at times compares to Nick Cave’s haunting croon, especially on narrative peaks like “Franco”. At other times, he resembles the gravelly solitude of The National’s Matt Berninger, a comparison evident on the oddly playful twang of “Won’t You Climb”. Gibson’s voice produces a consistently brooding twang that fits his dark folk-rock arsenal to a tee. On his new album Me Moan, he continues to craft a devilishly nostalgic sound, with welcome melodic flourishes of folk-rock and country that flicker like a lonesome streetlight in the middle of U.S. Route 50.
Me Moan is an album that plays like a dark memory on the fringes of a listener’s mind, where they’re curious to prod it at, but not without some remorse. “Phantom Rider”, led by finger clicks and Gibson’s gravelly somber tone, resembles a solemn darkness familiar to the likes of Trent Reznor and Ariel Pink, the latter especially prominent as an eerie synth pad emerges during the track’s mid-point, resembling the barren pop of Japan’s 1981 release Tin Drum. In terms of sheer melodic power, the hazy trickles of “Franco” make for an extremely engaging listen. Characteristic of Gibson, the lyrical tone alternates between nostalgic romanticism and bleak interpretation. Gibson lets out lines like “Give us a way for two lips to collide / I wish we had a kid who never wanted to die.” Yearning for a better tomorrow, one steeped in visions of storybook heroes, is a theme throughout the album, and it’s no different here. A scraggly guitar solo closes out “Franco” gracefully, as the track rides on a haunting echo that appears destined for an open road at 3AM in the morning. The scaled-down intimacy of “All My Days Off” benefits from melodic accessibility as well, here through a variety of carefully layered folk-rock guitar twangs.
The sounds on Me Moan doesn’t consist entirely of comforting nostalgic doses, though. The blaring beginnings of “Mad Ocean” is akin to being woken up by a bagpipe in your ear, but Gibson quickly lifts the track into a bustling chorus worthy of replay, even if the bagpipe-like sounds become overly prominent throughout. The instrumentation is uniquely utilized, but that doesn’t translate to continuous success. Gibson is best left to his own traditional devices rather than attempting out-of-place instrumental infusions. Still, bursts of arsenal innovation appear in other places on Me Moan, like the ghostly angelic vocals in “You Don’t Fade”, cut-up in a pitch-alternating mode of melodic whimsy that would make Grimes smile. “Dragging around a memory,” Gibson sings at one point, echoed by an appropriately cumbersome guitar crawl that seems to represent the lingering effects of unwelcome memories, even as the instrumentation choices here become cohesively welcomed despite the track’s unsettling origins.
The ominous piano growls, flickering tape machine, and wartime percussion of “The Right Signs” initially sounds like the setting to some melancholic documentary. Like that style of film, the track takes a patient approach in developing toward its core, punctuated by a more natural and tribal sort of percussion accompanied by distorted whirring and a jumpy bass line. Gibson lifts into a surprisingly anthemic turn here, just infectious enough to soften the concluding solo, a structural approach Gibson uses on several songs throughout Me Moan. It’s his personal way of adding some personal flair to his tracks, without derailing their focus. On “Kissin’ on the Blacktop” the guitar solo finale is the track’s best moment, with tones that compare to the Allman Brothers and other southern jam band favorites. The rest plays overly tongue-in-cheek, unfortunately. Although “Kissin’ on the Blacktop” manages to successfully capture the feel of a grimy bar down south, the reliance on rockabilly movement sounds tiresome after the initial infectious spurts of jovial guitar trickles.
Gibson’s dark approach makes for some unsettling moments throughout Me Moan, but like a successful film they add to the work’s overall tone with a centralized cohesiveness. Tracks like “Franco” and “Won’t You Climb” show the singer-songwriter’s penchant for an ominously stirring melodic showing, which he turns into strengths rather than contradictions. As two lush folk-centered efforts in “All My Days Off” and “Into the Sea” close Me Moan, Gibson’s talent as a songwriter with a unique vision is wholly recognized. Some tracks may prompt listeners to ask whether Gibson aspires to be a widely reputed folk crooner or a staple of the dark-folk underground, but evaluating the album as a whole suggests something else entirely. Daughn Gibson simply wants listeners to feel a yearning, even if the object of their affection has yet to be determined. Me Moan plays like a dark dream, not quite a nightmare, but one that makes listeners think – and appreciate the beautifully nostalgic sounds emanating from the dark road ahead.