Our collective notion of order is slowly being eroded by the postmodern era in which we live. Howard Stern is the host of a television talent show. Dumpster diving is a fad. Edamame is sold at grocery stores in portable pouches. People are becoming fragmented and contradictory, at best diversified and informed, at worst overexposed and under processed.
Consider Daughn Gibson’s All Hell (2012, White Denim) a reflection of the postmodern condition. Gibson makes folk music with flourishes that feel reminiscent of modern electronic music. As a result, classifying All Hell is difficult. Should we call it Folktronica? Post Cash-step? The best analogue I can come up with is the Beta Band, based mainly on the folk tie-in and the undeniable groove that characterizes the album’s best moments. All Hell is largely sample based, centered around repeating loops of twangy guitars and saloon-style piano lines over simple drum machine beats. Gibson’s booming baritone is the centerpiece of the record, alternately channeling Johnny Cash and Ian Curtis. He also uses his voice as his own personal backing choir, punctuating songs with manipulated, cooing vocal samples.
One of the defining characteristics of All Hell is the nostalgic Americana that pervades throughout. Gibson exhibits Cash’s penchant for storytelling, spinning tawdry yarns with all the familiar tropes (highways, ocean waves, the neon lights of a bar, a mother’s love). The characters are straight out of a Bukowski novel: unrepentant sinners, adrift and reeking of booze. This is rock bottom. Gibson wants to show you around.
Few songs better encapsulate Gibson’s style than the true opener “In the Beginning”, featured on the last FP Monthly Mixtape. The song is propulsive, with a boozy piano line, a driving bass line and some echoing keys. Gibson croons soulfully as he pleads an unnamed lover to take him back. The song is infectious and feels on the verge of being club-worthy, like an unfinished Frank Sinatra remix.
“Tiffany Lou” features Gibson at his most fractured. Gibson’s echoed moaning, gritty postpunk-style drumming, some unsettling organ and occasional piano stabs underscore the story of a troubled girl and the strained relationship she has with her father. The verses give way to an ethereal chorus as Gibson coos unintelligibly over a manipulated country guitar riff. The manipulated samples and indecipherable vocals give the song a dreamlike quality that is prevalent throughout the rest of the album.
Gibson sounds at his most low during “A Young Girl’s World” as he details an encounter with a crying drunk. Gibson croons like a lounge singer, backed by shimmering jazz organs and guitars that sound vaguely pornographic. Upon asking the man why he is crying, he responds, “I’m just an old man living in a young girl’s world.” It’s a statement that seems to speak volumes about this album.
Gibson’s electronic take Johnny Cash may seem kind of gimmicky on its face. But Gibson’s ability to filter dormant strands of folk, country and punk through a modern perspective is what makes this album so appealing in the first place, and what helps it stay engaging. This cut and paste aesthetic is what defines some of the modern era’s most compelling music. Kanye West’s affinity for 70’s prog rock is reproduced in some of his best beats. Beck feels equally at home making Prince-style funk albums as he does making folk/hip-hop/however you would classify Odelay. Girl Talk somehow makes Aerosmith enjoyable. And to a meme based generation fated to seeing a new remake of “The Amazing Spiderman” in theaters every summer for the rest of our lives, these fragmented albums speak to us. Consider Daughn Gibson’s All Hell a new entry into this postmodern canon.
Tim Myers is a frequent contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. We hope to see him around these parts more often this summer.