Craig Finn (the Hold Steady) Talks Daughn Gibson’s Me Moan

Daughn Gibson's music is most notable for how it melds sounds rooted in the recent past with those from the not-so-distant future. We live in a...

Daughn Gibson’s music is most notable for how it melds sounds rooted in the recent past with those from the not-so-distant future. We live in a time when pop music heralds both troubadours dressed as 1890s prospectors as well as French electro robots. Daughn Gibson commits fully to neither side of the nostalgia vs. technology question. Gibson creates songs by sampling old records but uses the loops and fragments to create a pure Americana that sparkles with romance and clarity. Me Moan suggests a place where James Dean stands at the end of some galaxy, squinting into a pulsing neon light, waiting on a spaceship, thinking about a girl.

A lesser artist would struggle with these contradictory worlds but Gibson pulls it off with aplomb. He captures and describes a strange atmosphere that feels familiar but foreign at the same time. It’s like a new look at a past life. It’s a mechanical rattlesnake from that movie Westworld, making maracas in the distance while Gibson is in the saloon with whiskey, describing her kisses. It is Americana with a groove, fusing old memories with modern rhythms. And, most importantly, it works.

There’s a comfort in the connection some of the songs have to the traditional American songbook — Me Moan features highway songs and murder ballads — yet, to me, it also captures the high and lonesome sound of traveling (and living) alone amidst the blips and beeps of the modern age. Simultaneously looking forward and back, Gibson creates a compelling album that I’ve enjoyed listening to all month.

The opening track “Sound of Law” starts with the chug of a ’60s pop recording before it surrenders to a driving beat that propels the listener down a wide open highway. The drums are like the whoosh of the wind and his voice is the heat off the asphalt. It seems that this song draws on Gibson’s personal experience as a truck driver and hits on some Americana staples: a daddy that’s a beast, a girl in the sunset, the law on his tail. He’s pushing forward with hell on his mind, outrunning his past mistakes, both physically and spiritually.

Another personal favorite track is “You Don’t Fade,” which holds onto a memory “like you left a cross in the creek.” It suggests events have transpired that are nagging at the singer, pulling at him from behind. Some of the synth sounds rise like steam in a noir film, and it all lurches forward with apprehension and regret. But the whole story surrenders to a fantastic hook that sounds like a record skipping on a woman’s voice. This is music that is sometimes both spooky and danceable.

“Won’t You Climb” is another standout. It’s a nostalgic look at childhood memories, but brings into it some lush disco strings that are nostalgic in a different way. I was six years old in 1977, so it makes perfect sense to me to think about climbing trees and Saturday Night Fever in the same breath. The song hits like a memory bomb.

Gibson’s voice sometimes suggests Johnny Cash played on a tape deck that is running out of batteries. It seems to be almost dragged down by his own blues. It only underscores the human vs. technology element to the album. Furthermore, a few of the songs end with the simpler loops that seem to be the foundation of the track, giving a glimpse into how the music was created. And while Me Moan has a dark tone overall, it ends up being a lot of fun.

Maybe what I love most about this record is that it suggests that none of us is just one thing. We grow and appreciate all kinds of things. For instance, a single musical genre might define us when we are 17, but as we grow we become more than that; we take it all in. My iPod allows me to bring a whole bunch of music wherever I go, so I’ve found it less and less strange to listen to Sun Ra and Cockney Rejects and Waylon Jennings, all on the same subway ride. We get ecstatic and depressed, frustrated and blissful. A great record shouldn’t have to be just one thing, and Gibson finds a very impressive way to connect to yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As citizens of this world we are both part of the past and the future yet to come. Daughn Gibson’s Me Moan knows that, and celebrates the duality in all of our lives.

Craig Finn is a songwriter and music fan. He is the frontman for the Hold Steady and used to sing for Lifter Puller. Craig is from Minneapolis but has lived in Brooklyn since 2000. He mostly likes talking about Kiss but also digs sports and late-’80s hardcore. You can follow him on Twitter here.