The U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Music Prize is wonderfully unpredictable, often awarded to impressively left-field selections. This year's surprise winner was Badly Drawn Boy, a.k.a. songwriter Damon Gough, whose charming full-length debut The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (preceded abroad by five acclaimed EPs) has just received domestic release. Like many of his peers, particularly The Beta Band, Gough sounds like he's suddenly discovered shambling indie-rockparticularly Pavementusing wobbly instrumentation, weird interludes, and muddy soundscapes to enhance his moody songs. But Gough's compositions remain rooted in the ornate, subdued pop of someone like Nick Drake, and Badly Drawn Boy is at its best when he sounds his shyest, not his strangest. At about an hour, Bewilderbeast is uneven, but at its best it exudes a sense of mystery, ingenuity, and wonder that portends even better material to come. The disc's rambling nature may even be intentional, with the messy sequencing giving it a rhythm all its own. "Once Around The Block" is dark, jazzy pop, miles away from the chamber-folk of "The Shining," and "Bewilder" milks an ocean of sentiment from a short accordion melody. "Fall In A River" gives soul to a plodding piece of home recording, and "Magic In The Air" finds emotional honesty in a sappy piano ballad. Even the songs with obvious antecedents sound fresh: "This Song" comes off like a surreal Paul Simon outtake, while the discoid "Disillusion" sounds like The Isley Brothers gone garage. The lyrics, mostly mopey relationship stuff, are clearly personal and certainly involving, gaining thematic inertia as Bewilderbeast progresses. Another sign that the days of Britpop have given way to unpredictability, Badly Drawn Boy arrives relatively free of any real hype. Here's hoping Gough is taken on his own terms and not struck down as a next-big-thing martyr. Badly Drawn Boy deserves a chance to fulfill the promise of this fine debut.