Return of the Bewilderbeast

By the

May 3, 2001

I have always known that in the curious microcosm of indie rock snobbery there is a just less than codified list of groups and individuals that must be on your playlist to earn your sub-cultural pedigree. This list varies in emphasis, depending on whom you ask, but the usual experimental, esoteric, folky, sad-core and individual driven projects make the cut. Some may start with Blond Redhead, Belle and Sebastian, Pavement, Arab Strap, Sunny Day Real Estate or the like, but a name that is increasingly inescapable in our nebulous indie lexicon is that of Badly Drawn Boy (n? Damon Gough), the pride of Manchester.

And in typical afflicted artsy, neo-recluse fashion, Badly Drawn Boy (who takes his name from a character on Brit-cartoon Sam and his Magic Ball) comes from a somewhat unclear background, has little contact with the outside world and acts as a completely solo musical dynamo in the studio. To complete the schtick, Damon rocks the requisite “I’m too tortured to bathe or shave” look, complemented by a fixation for fairies and a ubiquitous knit hat (a gift of long time girlfriend Claire), rumored to have prodigious storage capacity. How British can this guy get?

What is clear is that roughly 15 years ago, Damon and longtime friend and Manchesterian Andy Votel started up indie label Twisted Nerve to release the Badly Drawn Boy records EP1, EP2 and EP3, the first two printing only 500 copies. In subsequent years, Damon built velocity with touring act The Badly Drawn Boy Band and made the jump to XL Recordings. He released a slew of lugubrious guitar-driven folk core records with accompanying crazy-ass artsy videos to an increasing pool of dedicated fans. Among them were It Came From the Ground, Once Around the Block, Disillusion, Another Pearl and this past year, Hour of the Bewilderbeast.

Bewilderbeast spawned the single “The Shining,” which was quickly picked up by the promotions crew at The Gap and featured on one of the company’s commercials. Indeed, this past year has been pivotal for Damon, who has upped his assault both on the continent and in the United States through frequent touring and persistent generation of quality tracks.

Musically, Badly Drawn Boy resembles everyone from sadcore favorite Elliot Smith to Blur and even French nouveau jazz. With syncopated and complex beats, forceful and melodic guitar and synth sounds and a Brit-pop whine, Boy elegantly weaves together an array of musical influence and inspiration to create songs that are both jubilant and moving, understated and complex. Although much of his magic lies in the studio, I have been guaranteed that his onstage performance, accentuated with mid-set strolls through the usually intimate audiences and the occasional rejection of amplified sound, does justice to the songs and to Damon’s offbeat personnage.

If you have any desire to catch a good show during the month of May or to rescue yourself from the doldrums of contemporary Top 40, check out the Boy and his band’s return this week at the 9:30 Club.

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