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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
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+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
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+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
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+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
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+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
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Badly Drawn Boy
Born In The U.K.

There were 96 bridges along the way from my childhood home in Warren County to Pittsburgh. I counted them once on my family's bi-yearly visit to my aunt's house. Oblivious to all else going on inside the blue-and-gray Ford Aerostar, I noted each bridge with a careful tick-mark in my Trapper-Keeper. The 1987 Aerostar had a unique feature for the passenger in the middle row behind the driver — a headphone jack, volume controls, and a radio tuner. I often made use of this innovation, gazing out the windows as we wound our way through Allegheny hardwood country.

Warren County is the land that time forgot. Its selection of lawn ornaments: garish. Its choice of siding: Tyvek. Navigating the hills and valleys, radio fades in and out in a gentle crackle. No matter how long I've been gone, I return knowing the words to every song on the airwaves for the simple fact that the playlist hasn't much changed since I left in 1992. (Here, I could've just as easily have said 1982.) There's a special comfort in that. And so, every time I hear certain songs, I am transported to my seat in the van. All it takes is Huey Lewis & the News singing "ooh-wah-ooh" in "Stuck With You” or pretty much any song by Billy Joel.

Every once in a while, modern-music facsimiles come along, exhibiting this same transporting power. Born in the U.K. is one of these albums.

You know, people are truly unfair to Damon Gough. Criticism of the man borders on the gratuitous. Wielders of mighty pens lambasted One Plus One Is One. In fact, they've pretty much derided everything he's done since his Mercury Prize-winning The Hour of Bewilderbeast. All of these people are idiots. (Ed: Yet again, another brilliant ad hominem attack — that's 5 and counting.) He never insulted their mothers, so I don't know why they treat him as such.

Gough, simply put, is one of the most honest, straightforward songwriters around. Listening to his music is like selecting a mantra; repeating themes are key, both lyrically and musically. These little snippets not only connect songs within a single recording, but also span multiple albums. One of the most prominent is, perhaps, the "Another Pearl” connection between One Plus One Is One and The Hour of Bewilderbeast. Born in the U.K. is not without similar connectors. The "everything will be OK" sentiment that crops up in "Without a Kiss" echoes that of "Four Leaf Clover" from One Plus One Is One. "What are you gonna do when you walk away?/ Walk behind me/ It's all right, I'm OK" vs. "Go on, get off at the next stop/ Don't worry about a thing."

Also, "Welcome to the Overground" bears a suspiciously self-referencing nod to his early It Came From the Ground EP. (Ed: That could just be coincidence.) I, for one, never take any detail of Gough's work as pure coincidence — there are far too many parallels and shared wordings for them to be accidental.

One might tend to think this interconnectedness would make Badly Drawn Boy's albums a homogenous wash. This is not the case. Each has a unique character. Born in the U.K. is no different in this respect. And here's where I take issue with another popular critical opinion: the ubiquitous "This sounds mainstream" complaint. If critics would actually take time to read publicity materials, they might see that "mainstream" was Gough's intent. Alas, we don't have time to read these days, let alone listen to an album in sequence past track three.

Where previous albums have made use of diverse instrumentation, strange sound collages, and instrumental interludes, Born in the U.K. does not. The only "mini-song" remnants to be found are the "Swimming Pool” snippets. Even still, these are more restrained than previous segues.

Few artists begin their careers with an experimental album and successively rein it in as their careers advance. Five albums in, we find a primarily piano-driven album. Gone are the French horn, cello, and flute. Instead, a standard rock arsenal of electric guitar, bass, and drums serves as accompaniment. Yes, the overall sound is more uniform. Uniformity, however, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Working within these instrumental constraints (and a rock-oriented context), Gough is able to explore a suite of sonic possibilities. A prime example is "Nothing's Going to Change Your Mind." It begins as a piano ballad, turns into power rock, and is interrupted by a meandering falsetto rumination. This is the most epic, complex track on the disc. As such, it functions well as the centerpiece, showcasing simple parts built up and functioning together flawlessly.

Anchored to (and radiating out from) this central point, we find songs of a simpler structure. Highlights include "Promises," "Without a Kiss," and "Time of Times." These bridgeless wonders reveal a joy of being alive; some would call this naivety, but the joy is delivered in such a steadfast way, one cannot help but smile.

Several critics have called "Time of Times" a rip-off of Bewilderbeast's "The Shining." (That's very clever of them, because it says so right in the press packet.) If Gough himself acknowledges the similarities, why knock it? It doesn't hurt to borrow a riff from a great song. A song he wrote, no less. Recycling is not an indication of lack of ideas; instead it goes back to a point we discussed earlier, album interconnectedness. Each entry in BDB's catalogue uncovers details in previous works we never knew existed.

Born in the U.K. is an album with the best of intentions. It may not be the most adventurous BDB record, but that's OK. Even if it's not your favorite, it certainly doesn't deserve your excessive condemnation. Damon Gough is a fellow who writes love songs for his wife, records them, puts them out, and then, to top it off, plays three-hour concerts. If you haven't seen him live, I'd urge you to. On his last time through Colorado, he played a marathon set that included an entire performance of One Plus One Is One from start to finish while puffing away on untold numbers of cigarettes in a state that's outlawed smoking indoors. He's gruff and scruffy, yet ultimately lovable.

Just like the people of Carnegie's City. Pittsburgh is a land fraught with bridges to nowhere, confluences, and the aging carcass of a once-great steel industry. The blue-collar backbone of the Appalachians. Badly Drawn Boy has written an album for these people. And here people are trying to tear it apart. Their vehemence is misplaced.

by Sam Ernst

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