Greg Gibbs - The Lights
2011, Spiderbutt Productions
What is a singer/songwriter originally from Roswell, New Mexico to do but move to Chicago and open a bagel shop? Chicago Bagel Authority is Greg Gibbs' day job, so to speak, but many of his free moments are spent at home, writing, mixing and mastering original songs in his home office. Gibbs's work is thoroughly DIY, and in 2009 he launched a "song a week project" to push the boundaries of his songwriting and musicianship. Going through a separation at the time brought out Gibbs' more emo tendencies. His album Lights is a collection of souped up demos from that period, capturing the highs and lows of a storm-tossed year in the moment of creation.
Gibbs opens with "Time Capsule", a shoegaze, Electronica and organic blend of sounds. It's a fine example of pensive escapism from the pain of the moment. Gibbs comes across as hopeful but caught in a bland sort of melancholy. It's an intriguing start. "Expectations" is a crunchy electronic interlude using a rhythmic pulse as a sort of counter melody that leads into the meditative musical canvas of "Wasted Plans". Gibbs ruminates on all he hasn't done in a mellow diatribe that sounds a bit like Collective Soul played at half-speed. "Slow Down" has a mellow, rolling-guitar accompaniment that is sonically appealing but turns out to be the highlight of the song.
"What I Had In Mind" is a tongue-in-cheek yet serious exploration of the words that occur to you after the fact. Gibbs explores the things that he might have said; things that might have changed where he is today. It's a hopeless exercise, and this is reflected in the darkness of the arrangement, but the song is implicitly honest in both the message and tone and rings with a desperate truth that is compelling. "I Don't Mind" is a mildly catchy number about subjecting ones' self to the whims of another. Gibbs builds great vocal harmonies into the arrangement, and displays some of his finest lyrical work with turns such as, "I don't mind, but I think I should. It's alright because the things I didn't mind this time turned out to be good."
"2 Come Undone explores parting with good intentions in an intricate, layered guitar arrangement. The quirky key solo in the middle adds to the ambience. One might guess that the track listing for The Lights is chronological. Up to this point the material offered up tends to be very strong. Gibbs hits a bit of a rut in the middle where he seems to lose direction. "Most Guitars Are Made Of Trees" is numbingly repetitive in the chorus and disjointed otherwise. The "The Universe Is Fine", "The Least I Could Do" and "Ultrasonic Range" take a bland stab at acoustic psychedelia that misses the mark. "Campus Raygun" is an approximately two minute interlude with stream of conscious lyrics against a simplistic, repetitive arrangement. It's almost as if Gibbs took two distinct and sonically antithetical EPs and stuck them back to back.
Gibbs takes a stab at a couple of short-form ideas with "Orwellian Soccer Blues" and "Food Tastes Fine". Both start well but get bogged down quickly. "Hand Me Down" takes a step in the right direction, a halting and awkward exploration of the pain of being put aside. The naked arrangement is telling in the context of the lyrics and what Gibbs was going through at the time, telling the tale of a man who has been stripped of his confidences and defenses in one bold stroke. "Ground Loop (How I Fixed The Stereo At Work)" is an emotional still life; a detailing of the monotony involved in the first steps of moving on. Gibbs doesn't get a lot of points on dynamics or melody here, but the lyrics work through a great analogy for getting over the roadblocks life sets in front of us sometimes. "The Lights (Gryllidaen Rights)" seems less about message than about the intricate rhythms that Gibbs crafts with words and notes. The sonic appeal of this tune will outlast the lyrical, but is significant enough to recommend. "Facing The Tree" finds Gibbs challenging the uncomfortable patch of his vocal range, and might be better off explored a third or fifth down the scale. Gibbs closes things out with "The Nibbler", a solo folk-style tune that establishes independence of a sort from heartache through writing. It's Gibbs standing up for himself in atypical fashion and reclaiming his life and space. It's one of the best bits of songwriting on the album, delivered with a strength born of the journey through weakness.
If Gibbs' bagels are half as interesting as his songs then Chicago Bagel Authority is likely to be a smashing success. As a songwriter, Gibbs shows on Lights that he has an ear for outside the box songwriting in the vein of Sufjan Stevens. The songs on Lights carry the rough edges of the mining operation that led to the album, as Gibbs has opted to show his works in something like their original light. The effect is generally charming and well-met. Gibbs does get a bit lost in the late middle of the album, but recovers nicely with a journey through parabolic emotional collapse and rebirth.
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)