Daughn Gibson’s first album, 2012’s All Hell, comes across as an off-kilter form of retro-futurism, with its patchwork blend of laptop sounds and elements of country and Americana. This unlikely pairing might not have worked at all were it not for Gibson’s singular voice, a soothing, masculine baritone that brings a sense of weight to the collection of quietly moving parts that make up the record. It’s certainly not flawless, but his debut at the very least created an interesting little world. While his second album, Me Moan, draws from a lot of the same sounds, it’s as though Gibson pushed too far in all of the wrong directions, playing to all of his weaknesses and few of his strengths.
One of All Hell’s best attributes was the cohesive atmosphere it created, one of rain-spattered, desolate highway scenes in rural flyover country. The country music Gibson listened to while making long-haul journeys in a past job as a truck driver leaked into his songs and played a big part in painting these pictures, but always through subtle touches: the narrative arcs of his lyrics, the occasional slide guitar. On Me Moan, though, he loses all sense of subtlety. During “Kissin On The Blacktop,” for instance, he abandons this tasteful, reserved approach in favor of grating, twangy honky-tonk guitars and lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Toby Keith single. Gibson’s turn as a liquor-swilling, skirt-chasing good ol’ boy feels completely put on, a pantomime character that bears little to no resemblance to the image of himself he’s projected up until now.
Still, there’s a stretch toward the middle of Me Moan where Gibson finally starts to build on the best parts of his first record. “The Pisgee Nest,” “You Don’t Fade,” and “Franco” all linger in the same murky, vaguely eerie morass that was one of All Hell’s defining traits, but with lusher arrangements and a more direct, confident tone in Gibson’s voice. Guitars play a considerably larger role on this record, and they’re never better than in these songs. A single, melted guitar weaves tired lines through “The Pisgee Nest,” and “Franco” makes a thoroughly reverberated nod toward the iconic electric noir of Twin Peaks.
Even on its best songs, though, Me Moan can’t shake its greatest shortcoming: Gibson’s voice is sadly misused throughout. His deep baritone is at its best when it’s receding slightly into the background, and when he doesn’t sing with the level of bluster and bravado on display here. Even when he reached for the bigger notes on his first record, as on standout track “In The Beginning,” he did it with some restraint, reeling himself back in before he reached too far beyond his limits. On Me Moan, he stretches too far. It’s a shame, because his beautiful voice is one made for quiet crooning, not bold wailing.