Old Country: Daughn Gibson’s ‘Carnation’

What a square dance in hell sounds like.
By    June 15, 2015


Will Schube has never lost a game of hide and seek

Attempting to describe Daughn Gibson’s All Hell leads to dead ends. Melodies, ideas, and sounds rooted in Americana and Country tropes are places to start, but such easy descriptors feel reductive in the face of such an interesting work. His follow­up, 2013’s Me Moan, made it a bit easier to pin down Gibson’s vibe. He streamlined the sampling process, mostly doing away with this obscurity in favor of a record not unlike what I imagine a square dance in hell to sound like. His latest, Carnation, (out now via Sub Pop) is his first to sound more like a band than a lone cowboy riding off into the sunset. It’s his simplest work in that the sonic footsteps adhere to a unified vision. No more mashing together country roots and murky samples or bringing the dance floor to Twin Peaks. A no nonsense romp—twangy and dark, charming and terrifying.

Gibson was born Josh Martin and spent his early adult life playing in hardcore bands and driving trucks across the country. He’s an enviable character, all machismo and brooding confidence. This persona seemed to come fully formed adjacent his debut, All Hell, and solidified itself with 2013’s Me Moan. Carnation is Gibson’s strongest work yet because it transcends the country­-sample mashup novelty of All Hell (a process he began to do away with on Me Moan, which features “Kissin’ on the Blacktop,” his best romp to date) and functions as a really good rock record. Sure, the undertones are weird as all hell, but they’re a result of an artist utilizing his strengths

“Shatter You Through” is noir post­-punk, part hushed nightmare and part late night canyon drive. “A Rope Ain’t Enough” is hauntingly morose country featuring lap steel and shimmering synths backing Gibson’s downcast grumble. “Runaway and the Pyro” is a brooding, Dateline­-accompanying tribal stomp, while “It Wants Everything” is contemplative and pulsing, cinematic (nearly every song on the record could be described as such—or Lynchian) and sparse before exploding towards a thrilling conclusion.

Gibson’s greatest strength lies in an ability to showcase his love for country music by highlighting the genre’s subtleties. In this sense, he’s more Townes Van Zandt than Kenny Chesney. Thank god. Being a spiritual compadre of the ‘Old Country’—Townes, Willie, Lee Hazlewood, etc.—is a helluva lot more attractive than appealing to the remarkably unsubtle modern day ‘Patriots’ full of spew and misogynistic bullshit, drunk driving on the backroads of papa’s good ol’ home town just for the fun of it. But to be distracted by the country of it all misses the point with Daughn Gibson. He uses the genre as an inversion of itself, not as a base.

The musical structure of Carnation splits the difference between his first two records, finding a nice space to operate somewhere outside of the guttural, sample-­based low end of All Hell, and the oddly dance­y propulsion of Me Moan. Carnation is a step up and a step out.

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