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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Nick Drake -- Bryter Layter

 photo 220px-Bryter_Layter_zpsu5gitmbd.jpg

I will use the answers from my Q&A review of Nick Drake's debut, Fives Leaves Left, to highlight why I'm not as big a fan of his second album, Bryter Layter.
Does Nick Drake's hypnotic, rhapsodic guitar-playing from Five Leaves Left re-materialize on Bryter Layter?
I don't know. Outside of the intros to a few songs, Drake's guitar playing, the current in Five Leaves Left's creek, is not the focal point of  Bryter Layter. The folk/soft-rock arrangements are.
Are the musical arrangements that accompany Drake's guitar and voice as timelessly sublime as the ones found on Five Leaves Left?
Five Leaves Left's opening track, "Time Has Told Me," features a background guitar lead at the start that seems to say, "Welcome to a lovely album." Bryter Layter's first proper track (after the instrumental intro) also features a background guitar lead at the start, and it seems to say "Welcome to the 70's." Bryter Layter's arrangements, featuring most prominently: piano, flute, and sax, not only overpower Drake's guitar contributions to his own album--they're dated. It seems that after Drake's artistic masterpiece of a first album didn't fly off the shelves like doves behind the blasts of a shotgun, more "popular" instrumentation was thought necessary. So now, Drake's most tangible asset, his unique guitar playing, is relegated to the background by instrumentation that saps the man of his timeless power. And don't even get me started on track eight, "Poor Boy." If you think the one thing Master Drake's timid, introverted voiceneeds backing it is a gospel chorus, you need to have your head checked. Rather predictably, Pitchfork gave Bryter Layter a higher review score than Five Leaves Left.
I did not hear this one first.
After having my expectations set by Five Leaves Left, expecting an acoustic guitar masterpiece backed by tasteful, timeless strings, and subtle instrumentation, Bryter Layter was not, and many years later, still is not what I want from a Nick Drake album.
With that said, this is still a Nick Drake album, and we only have three of these (and a fourth of B-Sides)--Drake did not deign to live long enough to give us more. Even with heavy-handed musical accompaniment, and Drake's guitar-playing pushed aside, the man's talent and charm shine through. Drake's voice is just as sadly re-assuring as before, even if all of the songs aren't as memorable as others. I've got the aptly titled "At the Chime of a City Clock" swinging in my head right now. "One of These Things First" is a delightful little waterfall of a song, Maybe the Pitchfork reviewer who gave Bryter Layter a higher score than Five Leaves Left first heard Nick Drake when he witnessed Zach Braff use "One of These Things First" in Garden State.
I really need to give special mention to track seven, "Fly." The song is one of Drake's most moving. The opening verse and chorus:

Please give me a second grace
Please give me a second face
I’ve fallen far down the first time around
Now I just sit on the ground in your way

Now if it’s time for recompense for what’s done
Come, come sit down on the fence in the sun
And the clouds will roll by
And we’ll never deny
It’s really too hard
For to fly

All of Drake's strengths and vulnerability shine though on "Fly," and the arrangement, mainly consisting of a harpsichord played by that dude from The Velvet Underground, serves the song in the way the arrangements in Drake's best songs do, instead of over-powering it.
So overall, I can get a decent amount of enjoyment from Bryter Layter, but more than anything, I wish it could fly. Scratch that, that was horrible. But flying is possible, and Drake's first album does it, and the third one...I'll get to the third one...

1971 Island
1. Introduction 1:33
2. Hazey Jane II 3:46
3. At the Chime of a City Clock 4:47
4. One of These Things First 4:52
5. Hazey Jane I 4:31
6. Bryter Layter 3:24
7. Fly 3:00
8. Poor Boy 6:09
9. Northern Sky 3:47
10. Sunday 3:42


Neal said...

I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought Nick Drake was an artist from the 90s after being introduced to him via Garden State (I never really bothered to look him up, admittedly... he sounded enough like Rufus Wainwright and other types making music then). A certain spouse of mine said "Yeah..." when I commented with surprise that he was making music around 1970. Oh well--I'm admittedly more knowledgeable in the film and literature departments. :D

I have to agree about Fly--that's a spectacular piece that has stuck with me since hearing it for the first time a couple of days ago (and I've listened to it about six times in that period--it hasn't gotten old).

Nicholas said...

Hehheh. Admittedly, if not for Beck, I'm not sure if I ever would have heard of him, but this past month has been a great reminder of how much I connect to his music (outside of some of the more overdone tracks on Bryter Layter, like "Poor Boy"). I highly recommend you check out Five Leaves Left. It's got a great vibe, and it's the kind of album that always leaves*heeheehee* you feeling better when it's over than you did when it started.

Neal said...

I've been listening to his three albums a lot lately this past week, as I've had a huge stack of research projects to grade/write comments on, so I needed to get in the zone to do it. A few soundtracks but mostly Nick Drake have been great music to listen to as I keep myself moving through page after page of work.

I will *ahem* have to disagree with you a bit on Bryter Layter and rank it on the same level of Pink Moon and Five Leaves Left (with maybe Five Leaves being a little higher, as you graded it over Pink Moon). I get what you're saying about "Poor Boy," but it matches the vibe of the record, which is a little more jazzy and bluesy (or as close to those as Nick Drake gets). Rather than gospel chorus, it feels more Motown chorus, and they're pretty laid back to match Drake's voice. It admittedly feels a little less like him as an artist, but I don't much care for the pedal steel (or whatever the instrument is played along with "Time Has Told Me." I always enjoy that song until that thing starts whining) and that one bugs me whenever I hear it--it doesn't feel as Nick Drake to me either, but maybe I just have bad connotations with that instrument and country music, most of which I dislike as well.

And that doesn't stop me from still liking Five Leaves a lot. As you noted, the vast majority of accompaniment really works. "River Man" somehow feels like a river, which is a lot harder to do than most review writing that delves into superlatives suggests. And Cello Song is just perfect. Even if I didn't love that instrument, it just plays perfectly with Drake's voice and guitar work.

Neal said...

Perfect. Perfect! Perfectly!

Let me throw that superlative out there more as well. :p

Nicholas said...

Ah, different strokes. I love pedal steel. I'm glad you checked these out and received some enjoyment from them. I feel like Drake was the rare artist who could express their musical identity honestly, and somehow produce something that almost everyone enjoys (like Bob Marley, or our shared favorite, U2).