Photo: Sarah Cass

Daughn Gibson: Carnation

Carnation finds Daughn Gibson taking scissors to his signature sound, recutting it to a new style all the while keeping his natural waywardness.
Daughn Gibson
Sub Pop

Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find hinges on the actions of a man called the Misfit. He dresses in black, speaks eloquently, and is kind to strangers, but this being a Southern Gothic work, he’s hiding something beneath the slow drawl. He’s a serial killer, calmly murdering the story’s central family and, when he finally does break the façade of tranquility, he goes ballistic. The world that Daughn Gibson paints and inhabits so often mirrors those moments of sheer darkness from O’Connor, a mix of intoxicating and terrifying. Gibson is, after all, one of the few singers that makes the threat of “shatter[ing] you through” sound as seductive as it is dangerous. Three albums in, and Gibson’s found his smoothest mix yet, narrating stories of lust and crime with just enough polish to have them stick in your brain, but still holding their inherent darkness.

Gibson’s been myth-making from the start. He’s a Pennsylvania native, but he’s played each of his albums like he was born in a Texas border town. Of course, it’s not that hard to fool people when you’ve got the accent down, and Gibson’s seemingly bottomless baritone coupled with a deep drawl makes him a convincing southerner. His Lone Star State croon isn’t just meant to fool people; he’s clearly having fun with this character. Just look at “I Let Him Deal”, which starts as a murky rocker with clattering percussion and swooning guitar before the chorus bursts into flames, Gibson proclaiming “it cuts down to the face” with glee, taking pleasure in the destruction he causes.

Gibson’s rantings are colored by a fresh coat of paint on his music. He’s taking in more Joy Division-ish qualities, more ’80s sounding synths pop up to make the darkness dancy. Lead single “Shatter You Through” is the best example. In the Smiths’ heyday, it could have been a top-40 hit; as it stands now, it’s one of Gibson’s finest songs, a sleek and coursing track built off a twinkling piano lead and Gibson’s musings on lust and death. Gibson has a penchant for the seductive, but he’s never been finer with his Casanova act than on “Shatter You Through”. The chorus goes “woken up by oceans”, or “motions”. Either way he portrays a sexual tension that’s as powerful as the ebb and flow of the sea. The song preceding “Shatter You Through” is “Heaven You Better Come In” another diva like turn for Gibson. He describes being trapped in a motel room, and the title seems to refer to Gibson battling a plethora of temptations; that, or he’s literally inviting a girl named “Heaven” into his suite.

In fact, the only time Gibson lets a bit of light shine down on his dirty kingdom is on the sleazy “Shine of the Night” where his husky voice becomes even more slurred over smartly sharp bass and a boozy chorus. It seems to come right out of a surprisingly excellent bar band’s repertoire, right down to the slinky sax solo about half way through, and that’s precisely the picture Gibson wants to paint. If you don’t instantly imagine undergarments strewn among beer cans and cigarette ash, you’re not listening close enough.

Gibson also makes sure there’s at least one track to smother out any comforting thoughts “Shine of the Night” might provide. “For Every Bite” is Gibson at his nastiest, both in production and vocal quality. He duets with himself, two creeping baritones slithering over each other, delivering a spine-chilling performance. The drums drag enough just to make the whole thing ragged, along with the dusty bass interjections. The pre-chorus chugs along under Gibson’s come-ons, but it’s the punch-drunk chorus that imbues the song with hellish darkness. As Gibson’s last syllables fade (“and dance toooooo”) a piano crawls up the walls, with particular potency on the final chorus.

If there’s any minor quibble, it’s that Carnation stacks its front half with the hits, leaving the second bit a bit anemic. When the four best songs on the album all appear in a quick succession (“Heaven You Better Come In” through “Daddy I Cut My Hair”) it leaves the following tracks a bit underwhelming. If there’s anything to really get worried about, it’s the possibility of Gibson getting tired of this cowboy routine. Opener “Bleed to Death” has Gibson instantly ruminating on his possible death and subsequent rebirth into filth. “Daddy I Cut My Hair” has Gibson sighing, “young shitty people say / they want a Texan touch”, asking if his traits are becoming gimmicks. Then again, on the same song, Gibson claims “daddy I cut my hair / I don’t look crazy now” over gorgeous, sea-sick synths. Carnation certainly shows Gibson taking scissors to his signature sound, recutting it to a new style all the while keeping his natural waywardness. There’s simply too much debauchery still to have.

RATING 7 / 10
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