Sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, David Lynch and cartoonishly handsome honky-tonk revivalist Chris Isaak inexplicably became good buds. Lynch used Isaak songs in Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart and directed a lesser-seen video for Isaak’s immortal “Wicked Game” (the one without Helena Christensen in it). Then, Isaak played whatever passed for the lead role in Lynch’s even-more-inscrutable-than-usual 1992 movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, doing his best to project square-jawed authority in a dream universe where nothing made sense. This Lynch/Isaak connection was good for everyone, especially as both guys were at their creative and cultural peaks. Isaak’s take on old-school country and rockabilly was already interacting fascinatingly with ’80s production-sheen trends, and the Lynch association lent him a squirmy transgressive cool that prevented him from coming off like a cornball, always a danger for revivalists. And Isaak was actually pretty great in the Twin Peaks movie, giving the early scenes a quizzical gravity that Kyle MacLaughlan was no long able to offer the original show when it went off the rails. I don’t know what happened to the Lynch/Isaak connection, and if Lynch is really interested in making clanking electronic 12-bar blues records (which he his), you’d think he might holler at Isaak to help him out. But absent that connection, we now have Daughn Gibson, who comes off like early-’90s Lynch and Isaak combined into one person, except beamed into 2013, given time to acclimate, and with a voice pitched-down a few octaves and cursed with a hideous accent.
About that accent. Gibson is from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a town a ways off from Harrisburg, and he got his start drumming in the Lehigh Valley stoner-rock band Pearls And Brass. He is a man of the Pennslyvania boonies, and that means his god-given accent is half mountain-folk gurgle, half nasal Philly honk. This is an ungodly combination. Ask whorehouse-era Dick Whitman. It is rough. (And I say that as a person whose Baltimore honk is only marginally different from the Philly honk; we’re all in the same boat, guys.) And let me tell you: Gibson runs with that accent. He owns it. Either by nature or by affectation, he also has a readymade chopped-and-screwed voice. When he yawns in the morning, it must sound like a long-distance trucker leaning on his horn. Gibson’s voice is so deep, in fact, that it almost sounds like a gimmick. When he broke out last year with his solo debut All Hell, a collection of home-recorded synth-country experiments, I spent long minutes wondering why I was supposed to care about a guy who sounded like the Crash Test Dummies. But on Me Moan, his new one, Gibson uses that voice and that accent like Nick Cave uses his fake Southern-evangelist drawl — as an instrument of transcendence. He seems to live in that voice, and it now conveys vast depths of meaning even though Gibson’s lyrics remain a bit goofy.
Part of it is that Gibson is growing into his sound, learning its contours and figuring out where he needs help. Rather than recording Me Moan on his own, he recruited a band that includes some swamp-metal aces, guys from Baroness and Horseback, to play music that isn’t remotely metallic. And with better production and a few more miles behind him, Gibson has picked up a few new tricks. The echoing vocal samples in “You Don’t Fade” grease a forbidding Bible stomp with top-shelf Massive Attack creep-vibes. “Mad Ocean” has what I think is a chopped-up bagpipe-loop, throwing old-country echoes all through one of his more uplifting songs. “Kissing on the Blacktop” is a rockabilly ramble taken apart and reassembled in a gleaming-white laboratory, like what Dirty Beaches might sound like if that guy was actually interested in convincing large numbers of people to enjoy his music. And part of it is that Gibson is just writing better songs. His hooks are coming looser and more easily than on All Hell, and he’s giving them more room to sink in. The weepier, more countrified songs even suggest that Gibson might have a future on the Nashville assembly line if life as a mysterious indie pin-up ever gets old.
But really, Me Moan is less about songs and more about a sound, a juiced-up fire-and-brimstone Americana that never forsakes the present. Gibson lays on old-school signifiers thick, but he isn’t one of these guys blathering about how he was born in the wrong era; he embraces sampling and production gloss like the actual young person he is (or, come to think of it, like fellow pretty young Pennsylvania-boonies export Taylor Swift). That’s where the Lynch/Isaak connection comes in: He finds the anxiety and creeping dread and weird oblique glamor in that old roadhouse music, and he treats it as something other than a relic of a bygone age. In his hands, that raw material is evocative, but it’s also vital, and it’s got the power to creep you out as much as all Lynch’s fierce-eyed men-out-of-time do. So, to recap: In two or three years, Gibson has gone from bongwater-metal drummer to guy who sounds like the Crash Test Dummies to this potent force we now see before us. God only knows where he goes from here, but I’m guessing it’s someplace good. Keep an eye on him.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Jay-Z’s entirely unnecessary promo-bomb Magna Carta Holy Grail.
• Speedy Ortiz’s excellently anxious and fuzzed-out ’90s-indie debut Major Arcana.
• Flying Lotus-affiliated jazz-bass virtuoso Thundercat’s refracted-R&B opus Apocalypse.
• Unreal, the former Yuck frontman Daniel Blumberg’s Yuck-sounding debut as Hebronix.
• The resurgent Ciara’s state-of-the-art self-titled future-R&B album.
• Robert Pollard’s latest solo lo-fi power-pop endeavor Honey Locust Honky Tonk.
• Twin Peaks’ assuredly splintered fuzz-rock debut Sunken.
• Part Time’s woozy, jangly PDA.
• Swedish singer/organist Anna Von Hausswolff’s witchily wistful Ceremony, already out in Europe but getting a domestic release.
• Japanese band Coffins’ apocalyptic doom/death metal assault The Fleshland.
• AraabMuzik’s collection of reworkings The Remixes, Vol. 1.
• Montreal producer CFCF’s Music For Objects EP.