If you want to own a copy of All Hell, the 2012 debut album from Pennsylvania baritone weirdo Daughn Gibson, you'd better have a credit card and patience.
Though you can conveniently download All Hell's haunted 10 tracks online for less than $10, any physical version of All Hell—be it CD or LP—will set you back handsomely, if and when you can find it. To wit, the vinyl-sleuthing online depot Discogs currently has but one record available, for $50; eBay has five copies of All Hell up for auction, the cheapest of which is a compact disc that runs $31.40.
The high price of All Hell stems from initially low expectations: Daughn Gibson is the stage name of former truck driver, stoner metal drummer and smut store cashier Josh Martin. He recorded these songs largely alone and at home, with no plans to release any of them until White Denim, a small label run by a fellow Pennsylvania musician, dug through his archives and encouraged him to put a record together. White Denim issued the tunes in a small batch of 400 black vinyl records, ostensibly betting that Gibson would be able to sell at least that many on tour. Meanwhile, the Melbourne label Mistletone picked up All Hell for re-release in Australia and New Zealand. At a time when new music flows like a torrent, All Hell was positioned simply to join the rush.
But people soon started to extol All Hell, from raves in The Wall Street Journal and Spin to a feature-length interview in Pitchfork. The process took some time, with those Journal accolades appearing nearly half a year after the album's initial release. But the buzz steadily snowballed for Daughn Gibson, and those 400 copies of All Hell disappeared. An album that was never intended for release had become a new obsession of the hip and an entry on many Best of 2012 lists. The true culmination came when Martin inked a deal with Sub Pop, one of the biggest independent labels in the world, for the next Daughn Gibson record.
That would be Me Moan, an album that dashes the high expectations.
All Hell felt like a laboratory, in which Martin was free to fuse the confident ache, vagabond sketches and religious iconography of country music with surprisingly warm electronic production. What did he have to lose? On "In the Beginning," sampled-and-looped church piano wrapped around a Pentecostal rhythmic rumble; his voice commanded the verses in a deep bellow but lifted toward falsetto in the hook, a neo-soul fan coming out of rural hiding. The sinister "Lookin' Back on '99" suggested Moby digging through countless crates of outlaw country and divining some hidden rhythm within. All told, All Hell indicated a good singer with a curious sense of what he wanted to hear, simply fucking around in his bedroom because he liked stories and singing.
Me Moan, though, attempts to galvanize those oddball ideas, to legitimize All Hell's crazy potpourri into something viable for a larger imprint and for an audience with suddenly inflated expectations. Whether singing too hard, treating the beats like he's suddenly a pop star or exaggerating the steel guitar like he's touring the summer circuit with Kenny Chesney, Gibson overreaches at almost every turn.
"When I turned it in in February, I was completely exhausted," Gibson told the blog Aquarium Drunkard about Me Moan. Indeed, he sounds like a guy putting too much into these songs, treating them not like an at-home tinkerer but a deadline-meeting whiz.
The playfulness has curdled into professionalism.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Grating expectations."