It seems that Daughn Gibson is done playing cowboy, at least for the moment; the curious Western accent that Gibson adopted to drawl out his lyrics on 2013's Me Moan has disappeared, and on 2015's Carnation, the Pennsylvania-born singer has suddenly become British, delivering his tunes in a deep, moody croon that suggests an unlikely fusion of Morrissey and David Sylvian, with a dash of Bryan Ferry for personality. And while the opening track, "Bled to Death," includes a prominent steel guitar, the country accents that informed Gibson's first two albums play the smallest role on Carnation, which boasts a cool, slick production that meshes well with Gibson's New Englishman status, suggesting a laid-back, cocktail-sipping variation on new romantic-era new wave tracks, especially with its gleaming synthesizers and shimmering surfaces. Given that Gibson is also a strong songwriter, one of the most curious production decisions on Carnation is pushing his vocals relatively low in the mix, which means his often whispery tone gets lost in the keyboards and one often has to concentrate carefully to understand what he has to say. Despite the mix, Carnation is a smooth and carefully calculated creative detour for Daughn Gibson, one that makes canny use of his talents even as it takes a hard left turn away from his previous recordings. If it often gets over on mood rather than message, Gibson turns out to be an impressively good mood guy, and the production (by Gibson and Randall Dunn) gets the details right, making Carnation sound like a middle-of-the-night album for a man whose sense of style is matched only by his knack for poor choices.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming