Released by the White Denim label in an edition of 400 vinyl records, Daughn Gibson’s All Hell is a front-runner for the best debut album of 2012. It was self-recorded in a two-bedroom apartment in South Philadelphia last year by 31-year-old Josh Martin, the former drummer of stoner-metal band Pearls & Brass. Martin relocated to his wife’s hometown of Carlisle, Pa., last December, where he is currently a recruiter for a trucking company. But he returns to Philadelphia for his first live performance as Daughn Gibson this Friday night at the revamped Ortlieb’s Lounge.
“It’s all over the place stylistically, but it’s all clearly the work of one man,” say White Denim boss/Pissed Jeans singer Matt Korvette about All Hell. Martin had no intention of making his songs public or shopping them to labels, but Korvette heard several tracks and immediately wanted to release a 7-inch. Though, the deeper Korvette dug into Martin’s home recordings, he decided a single wouldn’t suffice “because of Josh’s prolific output, and because there isn’t any particular song that defines him, you’ve gotta listen to all of them,” says Korvette.
“This album would’ve died on the hard drive without Matt’s help,” admits Martin. Luckily, that didn’t happen, because several big indie labels have offered contracts, and All Hell has received significant buzz. SPIN called it “noir country,” and Pitchfork compared Martin’s deep, haunted voice to pop artist-turned-outsider balladeer Scott Walker. Both are accurate, but add a twist of Elvis Presley cool and a fresh, uncompromisingly contemporary sound. Consisting of equal parts live instrumentation and cleverly selected samples from Martin’s vast record collection, the music has traces of cloud-rap producer Clams Casino, outlaw country, spine-tingling David Lynch atmospherics and gorgeous indie-pop choruses.
Of the album’s title, Martin jokes, “I saw a Christian billboard on the turnpike that said we have to choose between heaven or hell. But, you know, it’s all hell, man. It’s ALL HELL. It revolves around the idea of trying to be decent, but falling short. It’s not necessarily about being good, but just trying not to be hurtful.”
With its blurry chorus, codeine piano and Martin’s cavernous vocals, “Tiffany Lou” is one of All Hell’s finest moments. It’s about a girl whose dead father’s criminal activities are documented on a frequently aired episode of the television show Cops. “It’s very upsetting to her, so she calls the network to request that the episode is taken off the air,” explains Martin. “The story’s dark, but I think it’s kinda funny.”
“The album’s filled with these little snippets,” he continues—for instance, the semi-autobiographical “Looking Back On ’99,” where Martin recalls all the times he fell in love when he was 19, and the heroic tale of regret and redemption on “In The Beginning.”
“Cramming them into three minutes is a challenge,” he says. “But the best, most effective stories should be told in one sentence.”
Daughn Gibson performs on Fri., May 4, 9pm. $10. With Randall of Nazareth + Tom Guycot. Ortleib’s Lounge, 847 N. Third St. 267.324.3348. r5productions.com