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Badly Drawn Boy

If Beck is the new century's Dylan, then Badly Drawn Boy is its Donovan -- and I'm not just saying that 'cause one's American and British (though obviously that's part of it). It also has to do with the contrast between BDB's slightly more effete, baroque folk-pop sensibilities and Beck's lo-fi American blues- (and hip hop-) inflected street smarts.

So, as the above comparison should indicate, this Badly Drawn Boy is an astoundingly talented, intelligent, interesting artist -- but let's get over the ridiculousness of having to refer to him as Badly Drawn Boy. His given name is Damon Gough. He grew up in Bolton, in the north of England. Upon reaching adulthood, he spent several years working in his parents' printing shop and making his first tentative attempts at songwriting, before leaving for Manchester to seek fame and fortune. There he met a DJ by the name of Andy Votel, with whom he set up the Twisted Nerve record label. Gough first emerged in a big way (at least in the U.K.) in the late '90s with a series of EPs on Twisted Nerve and a number of high-profile, extremely funny live performances. The British press swarmed to him like flies to you-know-what, proclaiming him the nation's newest pop phenomenon.

To his credit, Gough more than lived up to the billing. His debut LP, The Hour of the Bewilderbeast, was one of the finest records of 2000 to be released in any country. The meticulously crafted record revisits many of the finest moments in British rock history, including the mature Beatles and their members' subsequent solo work (well, their early '70s solo work anyway), the nostalgic late '60s Kinks, the previously mentioned folk troubadour Donovan, and the wispy, pensive Nick Drake. The album's dense, varied instrumentation -- including acoustic and electric guitars, keys and organ, strings, horns, occasional subtle samples and effects, and more -- give the music an almost unparalleled richness. With the record, Gough established himself as a uniquely talented, versatile songwriter, capable of downbeat folk, starry-eyed psychedelia, shimmering pop, and loose, shuffling blues.

Not surprisingly, Gough has been showered with accolades and critical praise, most recently securing the coveted Mercury Music Prize, England's top album award. He deserves it. He's an astute and diverse songwriter, with great instincts for what makes the perfect pop song.

"Once around the Block" comes from Bewilderbeast, while "The Shining (Avalanches Good Word for the Weekend)," from the "Once around the Block" single, is a remix of an album track by BDB's Australian dance-pop labelmates The Avalanches.