Ah, the scruffy singer/songwriter. Troubled by demons of some sort, these fellows (and women, lest I paint myself into a sexist corner) probably existed as long as music has been around. While they've been the scourge of coffeeshops and streetcorners everywhere, there are the occasional ones who break free. Elliot Smith made quite a name for himself within a couple year stint and went from relatively obscure to penning an Oscar-nominated song (but not winning) and signing to a major-label.
Damon Gough is one of the newer singer-songwriters out there, and although The Hour Of Bewilderbeast is just his debut full-length album, he's already managed to snag a fair amount of press. Not only did he release three fairly critically acclaimed (and now highly collectible) EP's, but he collaborated with DJ Shadow and James LaValle on their UNKLE project and has won a Mercury award. For most artists, that would probably be enough, but I think this is hardly the last we've heard of Gough.
For a debut, The Hour Of Bewilderbeast is quite a helping. With 18 tracks that clock in at well over an hours time, it's probably not the most conventional album in the world in terms of other releases that occupy the same sort of genre, but it's one that manages to stay fresh as well. There are stipped-down acoustic tracks and tracks with a lush backing and even little instrumental tracks that fall in once in awhile and help to space out the gaps a bit. The release opens with "The Shining," and after a melancholy string and french horn opening bit, Gough comes in with his acoustic guitar and sings of both sweet and sad things. The track comes to a close and moves directly into the rollicking "Everybody's Stalking."
After a couple more tracks (including a silly little organ solo by Gough), one of the best tracks on the album arrives in "Stone On The Water." Although all the background strings on the track are sampled, the lush track mingles acoustic guitar and string sounds for an what sounds like one of the best tributes to Nick Drake that I've ever heard. Not intent to keep things quiet for too long, the disc again rocks out with "Another Pearl."
Really, that's just halfway through the album. "Once Around The Block" is one of the most jaunty sing-along tracks that I've heard in a long time while "Magic In The Air" shows that Gough is not only a talented singer, but multi-instrumentalist as well (playing piano, the guitar, and a touch of harp on the track). Although a couple tracks towards the end don't work quite as well ("Disillusion" is a little too overtly pop), it doesn't detract from the album as a whole very much. Even short instrumentals like "Blistered Heart" come off as quite touching, and things never seem to fall into a rut. For an excellent release like this, I'm willing to sit through a few coffeehouse chuckleheads.