For an album recorded entirely on a USB microphone in various Brooklyn apartments, Sotto Voce’s Your Husband, the Governor sounds, at least at the very beginning, exactly how you might expect it to: with rough-hewn, folky acoustic guitar, full-throated lead vocals, and exquisite harmonies. The brief two-minute opening song, “Storrs, CT”, sets a lovely, intimate scene, and if the whole album sounded like that, it would still be a wonderful experience, sort of a 21st-century take on the late Nick Drake.
Fortunately, the Pittsburgh-raised and Brooklyn-based Ryan Gabos – who uses the moniker Sotto Voce – is a man of many talents. Playing all the instruments himself (as he did on his previous album, last year’s Safety), Gabos often uses a full-band sound throughout the album. The second track, “Document”, begins with aloof acoustic fingerpicking and skewed lyrics about teenage misadventures (“Prom dates, sipping on their phosphates / Limousine is late, mother’s pissed”). But eventually, multi-tracked electric guitars, drums, and bass crash down, and before you know it, you’re in the middle of Gabos’ one-person garage band. The instruments mesh in the way the best guitar-led outfits do. What’s unique about Gabos’ sound is that he can accomplish simple, head-bobbing riffs and beats but can also incorporate a variety of other styles that are more subtle and complex.
Take “Mooring”, for example. The song begins with a quiet, almost prog-rock intro, leading to an odd-metered drum pattern before Gabos begins singing in a soulful croon that occasionally dips into a falsetto and even throwing in some indulgent electric guitar riffs for good measure. Your Husband, the Governor – an album Gabos describes in the liner notes as “about a breakup and death, not sure in which order” – is full of these seemingly out-of-place musical moments that click due to Gabos’ assured hand as a writer and performer. The lyrics can be hard to decipher but are endlessly entertaining, especially when he describes a mundane situation in an almost postmodern fashion. “What a mess / Fresh out of my train coma / I’ll not confess what’s going on up in here / Feeling out of place, and my stomach is bare,” he sings on the winsome, breezy “Death Rattlin”.
Gabos is at his best when he takes a song like “Death Rattlin'” and then surprises the listener with “The Vows Section”, which veers between quiet, almost jazzy instrumental calm and psychedelic, Flaming Lips-level weirdness. Without the burdens of studio time or the schedules of other musicians, Gabos can truly explore the depths of his compositions, as he does throughoutYour Husband, the Governor.
While the psychedelia and oddball experimental nature of much of this album certainly add to the variety and enjoyment level, it’s often the quieter, more introspective moments that pack the greatest punch. On “Pretty Pleas”, Gabos accompanies himself only on acoustic guitar, and the result is striking. The same instrumentation shows up on “The Shaky Signature of a DNR”, with some additional electric guitar coming in and out of the mix to provide a chillingly beautiful atmosphere. It’s a mix of prog, folk, and indie rock brings that’s difficult to find anywhere else.
Your Husband, the Governor ends as eloquently as it begins with the bluntly named but beautifully executed “Up Yours”. A gentle kiss of a song, the lazy tempo glides along and provides the perfect close to an album where Ryan Gabos leads listeners on a strange, multifaceted journey. Fans of his previous work will feel right at home on this often stunning album, but will also be pleasantly surprised at much he continues to grow.