Release Date: March 26, 2012
Label: White Denim
Daughn Gibson, the former drummer for Pennsylvania blooz-punks Pearls and Brass, boasts a rich, toffee’d baritone that puts him in a long line of men’s men and cowboy storytellers, with Lee Hazelwood as perhaps the most prominent. On his solo debut, All Hell, he’s able to work all sorts of dark magic, uncovering a lonesome, nocturnal space that’s shared by tears-in-your-beer, end-of-the-world jukebox country and sample-based, post-Burial electronic pop. He’s a honky-tonk spaceman who, at one time, earned his daily wage as a truck driver. He sounds like it.
The spoken-word intro to “A Young Girl’s World” is just one in a spate of vivid, wholly immersive moments on All Hell: “I saw him there, underneath the neon lights of the corner bar, crying like a child. So I asked him, ‘What’s the matter?’ And he said, ‘I’m just an old man in a young girl’s world.'” On their own, those lines suggest an evocative but well-trod noir sensibility. But coming from Gibson, they take on a far more vibrant life immediately.
As said intro closes, a bell tolls twice. A brushed snare sample keeps easy pace with a looped, similarly narcotic melody. The entire space is lit only by that aforementioned corner-bar neon. And with both the saloon throb of “Lookin’ Back on ’99” and stagecoach dread of the titular closer, Gibson combines worlds so expertly that they come to reflect one another — until now, it was easy to overlook all the similarities between the work of Hazelwood and gloomtronic texturalist James Blake.
Though All Hell‘s atmospheric cross-pollinating is remarkable, it’s most galvanized by Gibson’s feel for melody and meter. (The latter is clearly a holdover from his time spent as a drummer.) For example, the sun-dappled crackle of “In The Beginning” mates a rambling piano loop with a parade of pitch-shifted vocal snippets. Or “The Day You Were Born,” which constructs a strange backdrop of keys and drain-circling acoustic guitar, Gibson echoing Johnny Cash, Stephin Merritt, and a Gregorian monk all at once: “Anger, I’ll tear you asunder / Beauty, I’ll kiss your big parts… yeah, lately I’ve been feeling like falling in love.”
Elsewhere, on “Ray,” Gibson tells the story of a handsome but sympathetic fuck-up, using tides of cello and the chorus’ simple, elegant melody to bring some light to the second half of the album’s 32 minutes, along with the (relatively) sunny vistas of “Dandelions.” But this is a record that succeeds on its astounding depth, cycling through a variety of dark hues and forms, and revealing dazzling compositional details on subsequent listens (without ever showing the seams of sample-based pastiche). And to feel immersed, you needn’t be an aficionado (or fan) of either country or post-dubstep mood music. All Hell throws up no barriers to access — if you have an abiding interest in great stories told by a great new storyteller, it’ll welcome you in.