Daughn Gibson, aka Josh Martin, has a lovable back-story. After starting in a Nazareth, PA stoner rock band, then becoming a commercial truck-driver during their hiatus, he now filters these experiences into experimental electronic music with country-fried guitar and vocal work that’s almost become a caricature of itself. He bellows his “ramblin’ man” stories with a deep drawl that’s drawn comparisons to Scott Walker when complimented and Crash Test Dummies’ Brad Roberts when teased. Although it’s largely ignored by the music press, there are much more obvious sonic similarities to be made between Gibson and Dirty Beaches.
Gibson and Dirty Beaches’ Alex Zhang Hungtai each perform live with a one-man-band setup, utilizing guitar and various electronics behind their deep voices. Both of them create music that blends classic surf-rock or country with knob-twiddling and samples. This combination forms a knee-jerk resemblance that requires effort to ignore, yet somehow it’s rarely (if ever) mentioned. Gibson does separate himself in a few ways, though – some are cool, others not so much.
Starting with the iffy: Gibson’s singing voice is about half an octave below his normal speaking voice, like a child imitating Eeyore. The tone is still wonderful, but he mixes it with a laughably-intense vibrato and some questionable inflection choices. In essence, Gibson croons with a chuckle-worthy, over-the-top caricature of both country stereotypes and Elvis that often sounds like intentional parody. The words “hour” and “campfire” on “Franco” particularly end with a cringe-inducing “errrrrrrrrrrrrrr” that’d fit better in a Comedy Central roast of Garth Brooks. This distracts greatly from the love-letter’s poignant peak at “I wish we had a kid/Who never wanted to die.”
When Gibson dials back the vibrato and audible lip curl – or by the time you get used to it – he reveals a solid soundtrack to the “modern cowboy opera” of his life. He describes manically helming the wheel of a semi on “Mad Ocean,” but also the mundane errands of “All (his) Days Off.” The poppier single “You Don’t Fade” shows his inability to stifle his baby’s cries as a representation of helplessness in abandonment – in this instance, because his love has died. Daughn’s “draggin’ around [their] memory/Like [they] left a cross in a creek.” Throughout the album, alcohol and various romances of either gender offer him respite during his tougher times. Although Gibson dances this line between vocal silliness and power on the album opener “The Sound of Law,” the driving snare roll and animalism fit his snarls:
My daddy was a beast
And he seemed to know well
When you bear that leash
You leave your teeth in trail
And we can never keep to sleep
With secrets dying to tell
He laid a kiss on my little hand
And blew that fucker off to hell
The music itself is solid, from the eerie noodling of “The Pisgee Nest” to the glitchy Southern rocker “Kissin on the Blacktop,” each telling more small-town stories from his life. In “The Pisgee Nest,” Gibson waits for the state trooper’s daughters to retrieve her lucky beret after breaking into cars with her, and “Blacktop” digs into the country staple of finding buzzed afternoon love at a bar.
The whole package leans more country than electronic in its methods, fitting his “cowboy-trucker” persona, intriguing more than alienating. Still, the vocals could be less forced. When he delivers lyrics naturally, they come off as honest memoirs – or at least interesting stories – and I feel less like I’m being manipulated by a fabricated persona or distracted by my own giggle fits. Alex Zhang Huntai, intense personality and all, is no doubt musically represented by Dirty Beaches. If Daughn Gibson is to represent Josh Martin’s life, then he might want to leave the Elvis impersonation to Vegas acts.