Damon Gough looks like his music sounds. On his third album, the northern Englishman who refers to himself as Badly Drawn Boy starts to play the music that fits with his woolen-clad head, Norseman scruff and unmanageable wardrobe. Dubbed on his previous works as an "unconventional baroque pop star," Gough approaches his latest, One Plus One Is One, with a very unpoppish approach - it's a folksier, basic lo-fi rock record. Still, this isn't the hippie sh-- that his appearance might suggest. One Plus One Is One shows how Badly Drawn Boy makes music that feels familiar to all of us, but adds that unshaven approach that speaks to the complexities of life's oddities.
In the center of the album insert, amid framed photos of bridges and birthday cakes, is a dedication to the late Elliott Smith, among others. From the very first track, that nod to Smith seems to be more than just a simple "thank you" - for Smith's music has had a profound impact on Gough's overall sound.
On the title track, Gough starts with light Smith-ish strumming. And just when you would expect to hear Smith's misty vocals, Gough comes through with solid notes of self-assurance. While his adoration for Smith's music is clearly there on One Plus One Is One, Gough doesn't try to copy the melancholy genius of XO or Either/Or.
Instrumentally, Badly Drawn Boy experiments with sounds that haven't graced any album of importance in years - things like a jammy flute solo typical of the Mamas and the Papas, or a string section that enthusiastically carries a few songs instead of moaning behind them. In a way, Gough proudly boasts his talent as an ingenious composer as well as a well-versed musician.
The first half of the album seems more folksy than Gough's last efforts, but as the album progresses, he retreats to a mood more reminiscent of his earlier work. However, there are few tracks that carry the same light-heartedness of his early hit, "Once Around the Block." Gough isn't blindly satisfied with life anymore; he' s not too happy, but he's also free from Smith's palpable sadness. Striking a balance of even-keeled human emotion, Gough creates a soundtrack of truly ordinary people. Listening to it makes you realize just how extraordinary everyday events can be.