Damon Gough plays right into the hands of hopeless romantics everywhere. As Badly Drawn Boy, the British folkie updates traditional troubadour avenues for the electronic age, and on his debut album, The Hour of Bewilderbeast, he explores each of them with charming dashes of naïveté, arrogance, and pretension. Still, for all the modernism he applies to his grooves, Gough clings to old-fashioned ideals about love. The Hour of Bewilderbeast, which recently won England's prestigious Mercury Music Prize, is nothing more than a concept album about the L word in all its obvious and not-so-obvious guises. It's fascinated with sounds and the excavation of them from the most unlikely places. But Gough isn't quite as adventurous as his contemporaries. While the album tweaks traditional folkisms, there's a very natural sense to it. This is digital-era folk rock, and Gough traipses through the electronic meadow, sometimes in reverie, sometimes quite gloomily.
A sad French horn and cello introduce the album, but the opening track, "The Shining," is hardly depressing. It, in fact, beckons and serves as a glorious release: "Soleil all over you, warm sun pours over me," Gough sings, revealing for the first time the romantic buried inside the scruffy cynic. Throughout The Hour of Bewilderbeast, Gough fills the time with bits of jazz, funk, and chamber pop. But his folk tendencies are the ones that override the project. The closing "Epitaph" uses chirping birds to keep time with Gough's strumming acoustic guitar, and it's a tranquil moment and a fitting end to the song cycle -- Badly Drawn Boy greets the sun in the morning and sings goodnight to the birds in the evening. In between, he hikes the trail of love, stopping to see the digital daisies along the way.