Aaron Gibson’s songwriting is perfectly married to his delivery, each as gnarled and burnished as it is raw and young-at-heart. Stylistically, his musical materials are somewhere in the borders between alternative rock and Americana, with a powerfully narrative lyrical approach. Warm, triadic harmonies are built into dramatic structures in which dynamics are as central as melody, making novel, arresting forays along well-trodden musical roads. Gibson’s voice is a husky, vulnerable baritone, which keeps focus on the songs, for all the skill with which he deploys it. The accompaniments are open-textured, gestural sketches that never grandstand Gibson’s considerable technical abilities, or those of his collaborators. The whole thing is a whole thing, songs presented in such a way that the listener hears the song, and forgets there’s someone singing it.
The last thing you’re likely to notice is that all the arrangements on Horror Films and Sunday School are built around a trebly, extended-technique bass guitar performance, one which bass-players will recognise as the product of an extraordinary instrumental facility, but which others are likely to barely notice. The majority of solo bass recordings, particularly those that, like this, eschew any obvious use of effects, are at pains to display the performer’s ability, and tend towards areas of musical practice that afford that display, such as jazz, progressive rock or funk. But if those players are consciously throwing down, demanding their instrument receive the respect it deserves, then Gibson takes it a stage further. There are no gimmicks here, no easy musical pretexts for complexity, and he uses his bass as a tenor accompanimental voice in exactly the way that other musicians might use an acoustic guitar or a piano. This is not a bass album. It’s a song album.
The songs in question are humane, perceptive representations of experience, and Gibson inhabits the various characters he constructs with humour, conviction and great compassion. Word-play abounds, wry and restrained, but you’d never call the lyrics ‘clever’—again, like the arrangements and the performances, the words seem to melt away into the stories, until the listener is left feeling an encounter, or a life, or a relationship, without really understanding what magic Gibson worked to put it in their head. His beautiful, sparse bass work is augmented by subtle and poised string arrangements, as well as some delicate shadings of guitar and piano from his co-producer Nahuel Bronzini, and contributions from a number of guests. The only one of these I was previously familiar with is the bass artist Steve Lawson, whose solo on ‘Webs’ is a model of shapely melodic restraint, but all the playing is perfectly judged. In fact, that phrase is a good summary of this entire album.