Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour Of Bewilderbeast
As with a lot of great records at the turn of the millennium, The Hour Of Bewilderbeast was roundly acclaimed upon its release but generally overlooked when it came time for the best-of lists. And that’s really a shame too, because Damon Gough’s first album as Badly Drawn Boy is a knockout. Mostly due to his narcoleptic vocals, the record feels effortless and intimate, like a collection of bedsit lo-fi. Yet as the swooning horn and string arrangement that begins the album suggest, Bewilderbeast is far more ambitious than it initially lets on. For what’s essentially a debut record from a singer/songwriter, it clocks in at 18 tracks and over an hour long, and Gough plays most of the instruments himself. But aside from some genre-bending and a few production quirks (the goofy hip-hop interlude “Body Rap,” the sound collage on “Cause A Rockslide”), he uses all this skill and musicality in service of small-scale folky indie rock rather than any heady conceptual conceits or alienating experimentation (which, thinking about it now, might be the reason it’s so often overlooked). As a result, it’s a warm, charming, unique set of songs that has a surprising amount of range, with humor and earnestness in roughly equal amounts. There’s the dreamy, floating-on-clouds love song “Magic In The Air;” the obliquely menacing “Everybody’s Stalking” and “Say It Again;” the skipping, understated “Camping Next To Water,” and the touching, country-tinged “Pissing In The Wind,” to name just a few. And though the kitchen sink approach ensures that Bewilderbeast doesn’t really cohere or entirely justify its length, it’s the strength of the songs and their inventive, lively Wulitzer-n-harp-n-everything-else arrangements that keep the thing afloat the whole way through. Particularly in these early days, Gough is often compared to Beck or Harry Nilsson, and those are fair observations to make—all three are folkies who moonlight as musical polyglots—and anybody who finds themselves playing Mutations or Nilsson Schmilsson in heavy rotation will have plenty to fawn over here. And coming in right before the Strokes’ ascension and the rest of the ’80s revival, it just so happens to place a neat capstone on the slacker-rock culture of the ’90s, ushering out the old guard. While Badly Drawn Boy’s later output has its moments (especially on the About A Boy soundtrack, this record’s polished follow-up), he would never make a record as good as this again.