We're so used to getting artists' first albums after months of buzz and hype, that it's quite refreshing to receive an album out of the blue; like this here stupendous - short but intense - “All Hell” by Daughn Gibson.
Gibson comes from the state of Pennsylvania - in the North-East, next to New York and New Jersey (in an hour and a half you're in New York City to see a gig, as Gibson himself said in an interview) - so it's not exactly the American heartland; but it is on the doorstep of it. The record's theme goes well deep into the mythology of the inner states, so deliberately exploited in literary minimalism (in fact, “All Hell” presents numerous traces of minimalism, both literary and musical). The first kind of minimalism is very much present in the lyrics on the album, which extend in the form of dirty realism honed by authors like Raymond Carver, John Fante and Richard Ford. They present sketches of dramatic but everyday situations and people adrift, overwhelmed by the circumstances they find themselves in. In this case, the relationship between parents and their children have a special role, particularly on “Tiffany Lou” and “Ray”. Despite the brevity, the lyrics are captivating, and their impact increases further still with a careful selection of details about the context within which the events explained take place. It has a nocturnal atmosphere, yet never becomes Lynchian or Southern Gothic, as Gibson's songs are very realistic. In that sense, the way he uses the samples to build loops, reflects how the characters are trapped by their circumstances; while electronic elements, such as the rhythm, place the stories in the present, and not just the musical present but the present of a society where technology and digital media are becoming increasingly important.
In literary minimalism, the deconstruction of the archetype of the male hero played an important role as well. Masculinity is something so present on this album - so emphasised by Gibson's deep baritone, his past as a truck driver, and of course the album sleeve - that you're almost tempted to think that there's some irony in all of this, although the apparent hyper-masculinity has its counterpoints in the drifting male characters starring in his songs.
“Bad Guys”, the opening track, sounds like a conventional country/Americana song at first, until you realise it's built with loops, simply parting from a few motives that repeat themselves over and over. It’s a composition pattern used throughout the record, making it part of the minimalistic wave which, like its literary equivalent, is eminently American. By using looped samples of country music, Gibson highlights the rhythmic aspects, which, in their turn, bring the music close to electronica; thus arriving at a crossroads between country and dance music.
Daughn Gibson's been compared to many country and dance artists. A cross between Nick Cave and Burial was mentioned, alongside one between Lee Hazlewood and James Blake, which goes to show that he has come up with a sound that surprised everyone. Gibson himself names Demdike Stare and Burial as his main influences, and it's true that the dark and emotional electronica of those two is present on the record, though not directly, rather in the noir moods.
While, because of the certain similarity in sound, you could be tempted to put him in the basket of bedroom producers; in Daughn Gibson's music you hear the houses where the dramas in his lyrics take place. Furthermore, you hear the great American landscapes, suggested by the repetitiveness of the music, probably an influence tracing back to his days as a truck driver. Furthermore, contrary to the bedroom producers, his music isn't introverted but rather focused on the friction between the characters in his stories. Scott Walker has been mentioned a lot as well when talking about this record, and with reason: you could say Gibson sometimes sits between Walker's first pop albums and his more recent and experimental ones. But the album's magnetic power, its addictive attraction, also lies in Gibson's great nose for solid vocal melodies, brilliant and memorable.
“All Hell” is only about half an hour long, and leaves you wanting more; even in that sense the record is minimalistic and concise. He doesn't need more time to create a personal sound, giving us gems like “Tiffany Lou”, “Lookin’ Back On ‘99” and “Ray”, and - to end on a high note - the raw and almost epic title track. “All Hell” is the best surprise we've had so far this year.