Going out on a limb here: The self-titled album by Goddess is a breakup album. And my hypothesis is not just based on the intro track called “On Breakups.” That song — spoken rather than sung — offers up a philosophy on rivers and streams as metaphor for relationships forming and parting. It’s deeper and darker than what we’ve heard, previously, from Ben Gibbs, the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist-producer behind Hector’s Nectar.
Goddess is Gibb’s new project: A brooding nocturne that, according to bio notes, “was formed in the winter of 2011 in a little, yellow house with no heat.” (So, there’s an element of the surreal, too. Case in point, the album art featuring an earth mama-type with a bindi on her forehead and a very hairy chest.)
“I am here tonight to tell you that you’re gonna die,” Gibbs sings at the outset of the rhythmic second track. It’s part Peter Murphy, part The Doors, part a world music symphony with exotic percussion and cascading strings. That songs is followed by the dreamy, Beach Boys-esque, “A Life Ain’t A Life,” colored with shades of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Those piano tones, those vocal sweeps through minor keys.
Gibbs has the right voice for lyrical drama. His is a burnished baritone; his writing tends toward the melancholy and romantic. Piano ballads nods at the greats of that genre — Billy Joel and Harry Chapin. The languid moods and Gibbs’ jazzy torch songs would be more at home in a low-lit cocktail lounge where cut glass reflects candle flicker. That Gibbs is based in Marion, N.C. seems a bit of an injustice to Metropolitan piano bars.
“Midnight” is less cocktail lounge, more new wave noir. There’s a dissonant piano part that calls the ear away from the synthesizers and Gibbs’ resonant vocal, which rings from the back of the track. It’s an experimental composition that edges against pop and then veers away from it, its beats running ragged before finding the groove again.
But Gibbs isn’t new to these type of sonic risks. His earlier Hector’s Nectar releases were equally divided between the soft rock/jazz-pop of a bygone era and current experimental synth journeys. The singer-songwriter reprises his sultriest, most sparkling Hector’s Nectar track on Goddess: Here, “Every Star Diana” is a warm invitation into Gibbs’ world of leisure suits, Mai Tais and a heartbreak so smooth it barely hurts, even as its mascara runs down glittered cheekbones.
“I still have your t-shirt. I found it in my laundry,” Gibbs sings on “T-Shirt,” another in the breakup storyline. The songs shimmies and sways, a slight but poignant punch to the gut. “I Wanted You For So Long” plays off of a similar sentiment, though it’s much more complex. The track is layered and dense and plays like the dark side of the Xanadu soundtrack. Yeah, the disco ball is spinning, but the roller skater drifts through an empty room strewn with last night’s cast off party favors.
Goddess wraps with the instrumental track, “It’s Called Love, Janice.” It’s a pretty piece, laid-back and contemplative, but stylish and awash in sunset glow. This is the sigh after the tears are cried out, the candles are snuffed and Janice’s left-behind t-shirt tossed out with the rest of the ephemera. It’s a satisfying ending to Gibbs’ most-fully-realized-to-date album.
Though Gibbs rarely plays live shows, I’ll say again (as I always do when I review his music), that I hope he sets up a local date sooner rather than later. I’ll also say that I hope (for his own sake) that his next album is a getting together album, though Gibbs is certainly a musician who can create beautiful music from heartbreak.