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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Nick Drake -- Time of No Reply

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Time of No Reply is a posthumous collection of unreleased material by Nick Drake. Some of the songs are new, and some are just home-recordings or alternate versions of previously released songs. I'll be frank, or rather, I'll be The Nicsperiment, and admit that I like this collection of songs more than Bryter Layter. In other words, I like this mix of toss-offs more than I like one of Nick Drake's heralded full-lengths of original material. Maybe that's just because Time of No Reply does not include "Poor Boy," though I think it more likely that it's because Time of No Reply features some really stunning work.
The opening title-track, an apparent cast-off from Five Leaves Left, is classic Drake. The song offers Drake's bleak, yet strangely comforting perspective, feeling alienated as he lends a lovely guitar line to his plaintive vocals. The lack of accompaniment is reminiscent of Drake's much praised swansong, Pink Moon. "I Was Made to Love Magic" follows. I know the song has its fans, but the chorus melody, which features Drake sort of holding onto the syllables too long, is off-putting. To me, it's the "Poor Boy" of the album.
Next is "Joey" another excellent Drake-only track, followed by "Clothes of Sand." I've heard that Drake took inspiration for "Clothes of Sand" from a North Saharan acid trip. That would explain the psychedelic lyrics, but the song, with its dark, subtle guitar, and Drake's melancholic vocals, is surprisingly emotional. It's one of my favorites in his catalogue.
The next handful of tracks feature some lo-fi home-recordings of songs both previously-released and not. I love this even more vulnerable rendition of "Fly," as well as the bluesy, timeless "Been Smoking Too Long," which sounds like it could have been made at any point since the guitar and recording device were invented.
Time of No Reply ends with four of the last songs Drake recorded. Like most of Time of No Reply, the songs are stark, vocal and guitar-only tracks. This last quartet truly sounds like the work of a man who knows he is about to leave this Earth. I wish this dude could have found a reason to live.

1987 Hannibal
1. Time of No Reply 2:52
2. I Was Made to Love Magic 3:08
3. Joey 3:04
4. Clothes of Sand 2:32
5. Man in a Shed 3:02
6. Mayfair 2:28
7. Fly 3:35
8. Thoughts of Mary Jane 3:42
9. Been Smoking Too Long 2:13
10. Strange Meeting II 3:32
11. Rider on the Wheel 2:30
12. Black Eyed Dog 3:20
13. Hanging on a Star 2:42
14. Voice from the Mountain 3:40

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nick Drake -- Pink Moon

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There are times that I see an underwhelming album labeled a "masterpiece" and have to shake my head. Merriweather Post Pavillion the best album of 2009? Who is heralding Animal Collective now? To Pimp a Butterfly? Call me in ten years when all your cheerleaders realize how vacuous you are.
This is not an entirely new phenomenon, and I am not alone in my sentiments. There's a reason books like Kill Your Idols exists (NOTE: I have never read Kill Your Idols). Plenty of albums regarded as classics that one is just supposed to consider great because they are, aren't really the greatest. Music is entirely subjective, so everything considered "the greatest" should be only so for audiences of one.With all that blathered, I do not think Pink Moon is a perfect album, nor Nick Drake's finest.
Drake recorded Pink Moon over the course of two nights, he and the engineer the only souls in the studio. After the overly busy musical accompaniment on Drake's previous album, Bryter Layter, Drake wisely makes the decision to pare back Pink Moon's musical arrangements. However, instead of just paring back the instrumentation to Five Leaves Left levels (his first album), Drake cuts everything away from Pink Moon but the bones. This album is twenty-eight minutes and 22-seconds of nothing but Nick Drake's solitary voice and acoustic guitar, with one piano line popping up in the middle of the first track. That's it.
While the critics of 1972 had little love for Pink Moon, many of today's consider it a masterpiece. I think it is very special, but I do not think it is a masterpiece.
Pink Moon is special because Drake's shy singing and singular, warm guitar-playing are inescapable here. There is nothing else to distract one's ears. The listener is forced to focus on nothing but Drake's playing and his voice, as it sings his mysterious and mostly melancholic lyrics. Generally, the timid singing would contrast with the comforts of Drake's easy, yet streaming and sophisticated guitar-playing style, which is the charm of much of Drake's music. On Pink Moon, though, there are moments where even the guitar-playing is more harsh and minimalist, like the repeating five-note tap of "Know." This helps to create a new contrasting experience this is both insular and alienating.
The last words of Five Leaves Left promise a Sunday ruined by rain, but there's still a certain comfort in the song, like everything will be okay anyway. I find no comfort in Pink Moon's ending, and feel only a peculiar coldness. Maybe it's the repetitive, monotonous tone of the album (rumor has it that the album cover is a surreal painting instead of a photo of Drake because the only expression Drake was capable of at the time was morose): it slowly grinds me beneath Nick's guitar strings.
And yet, I do love this album. I've listened to it countless times, yet I never get what I want from it.
Drake suffered from major depression, and I can relate, but Drake killed himself at age 26, two years after this album was released, by overdosing on anti-depressants.
I'm 34 and still here. I want some re-assuring feeling from my music that it is okay to go on, and Pink Moon doesn't offer that in the least, only this:
Pink Moon gonna get ye all.

1972 Island
1. Pink Moon 2:06
2. Place to Be 2:43
3. Road 2:02
4. Which Will 2:58
5. Horn 1:23
6. Things Behind the Sun 3:57
7. Know 2:26
8. Parasite 3:36
9. Free Ride 3:06
10. Harvest Breed 1:37
11. From the Morning 2:30

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Work Listening Station: Volume 3

With the advent and ascension of streaming services like Spotify, music has become so disposable that even something as recently modern as an IPod playlist seems quaint. Indeed, why buy an album or even a single for an MP3 player, when you can just stream what you want right now on your phone. In this climate, actively listening to a complete 40-minute album from start to finish sounds like an unrealistic commitment.
My work listening recommendation for this week is Robert Rich's 8-hour Perpetual. A Somnium Continuum.
Yes, Perpetual is an 8-hour album. It was created by electronic music pioneer, Robert Rich. Rich composed Perpetual in 2013, as a part of a series he releases an entry for every decade or so called The Sleep Concerts. The idea is that you go to one of these concerts at night and sleep, while your ever-awake subconscious soaks in the music. Remarkably, this piece also works wonders as you spend 8 hours of your day sitting at a desk.
Perpetual begins with deep, rich, mysterious ambient tones, evocative of a slow-motion pan through a thick, misty rainforest. These sounds and textures continue to develop organically for hours. Around 4.5 hours in, Rich explores some colder, more mechanical musical thoughts, but slowly builds back to sounds more evocative of nature, so that the last hour feels like a spiritual ascension, as if the listener has reached the transcendent light at the middle of the dew-drenched forest, deep booming subaqueous blasts billowing under foot, ever rising, so that when you file that last TPS report and reach for your keys, you are surprised to find your cheeks ripe with tears.
Transcendent is the right word.
Perpetual. A Somnium Continuum is a transcendent experience.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Nick Drake -- Bryter Layter

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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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Nick Drake -- Five Leaves Left

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Peruse these reviews, and you can count on one hand the folk albums you see represented. Folk is not a genre that generally interests me. However, Beck, one of my favorite artists, released a borderline-folk album in 2002 that is one of my favorite albums of all time. I quickly noticed that Beck was name-dropping someone named "Nick Drake" quite a bit as a huge influence on Sea Change.
Hey, my name's sort of Nick, I thought. I'm gonna check this guy out.
Well, I checked out Nick Drake's first album, Five Leaves Left, and much to my surprise, I liked it just as much as Sea Change, which is to say, a lot.
Nick Drake was this weird, shy dude from rural England. He liked to stay indoors and do things that eventually, "eventually" in this case a stretch, led to his death at age 26. Drake released three albums, none of which found any commercial success during his lifetime. That lack of success likely further contributed to Drake's bad habits, though ironically, Drake's shyness-fueled avoidance of interviews and live performances most likely led to his lack of popularity.
I'm much an introvert myself, raised in an area as rural as Drake was, albeit my worst vice appears to be candy salad. Like most of the introverts and scattered extroverts who have latched onto this music over time, I found instant connection with Drake's work, particularly Five Leaves Left. As to why, I'll have to get metaphysical...and do a patented Nicsperiment Q&A.
Why does Drake's gentle guitar-playing not bore me like most gentle guitar-playing often does?
Something about Drake's playing is different. He much experimented with tuning and technique, and while his style is gentle, I would also call it "lively," like a bubbling brook, or wind-rustled leaves--very evocative of nature.
Why does the folk accompaniment not sound full of schmaltz and dated?
I don't know. I feel like serendipity had a hand in this. I am not high on a lot of the accompaniment on Drake's second album (an album which, predictably, Pitchfork gave a higher review to than this one), and he is unaccompanied, sans one piano line, on his third. For some reason, all of Five Leaves Left's subtle musical accompaniment given by folk bands, Fairport Convention and Pentangle, as well as the strings composed by Robert Kirby and Richard Thompson, are sublime. Every tap of the conga, shudder of violin, oaken touch of bass, and even lilt of flute are perfectly placed. If I had to articulate a reason for its success, I think Five Leaves Left's instrumentation seems to exist only to serve the song. There's no, "This album has to have strings on it because that sells"'s "this particular song needs these particular strings on it because on this song these particular strings will sound lovely." The second quotation has more words in it, so producers often go with the first.
3. I heard Five Leaves Left first.
Obviously, this is a statement, not a question, but I don't quite feel like I can review this album next to its brethren without bias. I heard Five Leaves Left first, and I've had the more memorable adventures to it. To wit, I'll end this review by back-referencing this very blog.
2005, that year, after a summer adrift in some strange darkness, no job, no prospects, alone, I started blogging again. Around that time, I borrowed 20 bucks from my dad, and headed up to Monroe to hang out with my cousin. I stayed with her til that Sunday, then drove home. I had given serious thought to coming home Monday, but when we watched the news that morning, there was suddenly a hurricane named Katrina bearing down on us. So that afternoon, 08/28/05, with a pounding headache, I headed back South, into Katrina, to home. As part of the drive, I had to head east on I-20, then get off at a rural spot on the Mississippi River levee to head toward the gulf. The crazy thing is, as I drove through the idyllic countryside, listening to Drake, the sky couldn't have been more beautiful. But as I headed further South, it transformed so that I was driving into the jaws of hell.
Here is a video of me driving and listening to Nick Drake, as I traveled atop the Mississippi Levee Road. I took it on an ancient camera, and quality is almost unspeakably low, but you can still get my drift. Video or not, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Before that portion of the drive, I listened to Air's "Universal Traveler," and that was also pretty great (it might as well have been my theme song).
Here's the full version of the Nick Drake song from the video above. It's called "River Man," and it was not actually created in 1969, but has existed since the beginning of time. It pairs well with a drive through open country...or anywhere.

1969 Island
1. Time Has Told Me 4:27
2. River Man 4:21
3. Three Hours 6:16
4. Way to Blue 3:11
5. Day is Done 2:29
6. Cello Song 4:49
7. The Thoughts of Mary Jane 3:22
8. Man in a Shed 3:55
9. Fruit Tree 4:50
10. Saturday Sun 4:03

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Wii U Game Reviews: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

I give another stellar review to a Wii U game. It's not like I'm going to spend $50 on a game that's crap. Still, this is an updated version of a game I didn't enjoy much upon its original release. It's always good to give things a second chance...well, not everything, I mean, don't give someone a second chance to kill you, or don't eat cat feces twice...or don't eat cat feces once. Just don't eat feces.

Wii U Game Reviews: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD Released on the Wii U, September 20, 2013, by Nintendo  Retail: $49.99 Wii U Game Reviews Score: ...

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Nicsperiment's Work Listening Station: Volume 2

Don't be turned off by the below album's creator and title, as there are no buckets of literal ear-gore, just truckloads of sweet, sweet Rhodes, sax, bass, keyboard accouterments, and slo-mo drums.
Bohren & der Club of Gore's Black Earth presents the kind of fine de si├Ęcle doomjazz that reminds me of sitting in my car on a rainy night, listening to Portishead, and waiting for the world to end. Y2K never happened, but the music that best reminds me of that time lives on. That's what's most surprising about Black Earth's 2004 release date--it doesn't conjure images of this dark century's greatest boogeymen: terrorists, dirty bombs, and this generation's version of Steve Forbes not being a Presidential candidate joke, but the front-runner. Black Earth instead brings to mind the coolest jazz club that could ever exist, candle-lit, the rainy night outside eternal.
This also means that Black Earth is the rare album that works as background noise for study or work (thus this entry), or for active listening (which my family can attest I've done constantly for the last couple months). Black Earth is the perfect album for winter, and though our two-week Louisiana winter has already come to an end, I'm still listening.
Some Youtube-user of good taste has posted the entire album for anyone's listening pleasure, though if you enjoy it, you should do as I did and purchase it from Amazon, or your own preferred vendor of fine music.

Further Listening Bonus: Bohren's album previous to this, Sunset Mission, is almost as good, though I would advise against the band's later albums, which are strange exercises in minimalistic torture.
DEEPER THOUGHT FOCUS: Upon Reflection, Black Earth would also make for a fine soundtrack to Grim Fandango, though that LucasArts end-of-the-20th-Century-Classic already has its own perfect soundtrack.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

So Now What Do You Think About Nick Cave?

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So that was exhausting. I loved writing those fifteen Nick Cave reviews over the span of 29 days--it was invigorating to a certain part of my mind--but it was extremely wearying for the rest--so much so that I actually had to take a day off from work yesterday and go on an insane, Nicsperiment-patented walkabout. I'll hopefully put out a travelogue for that soon--but until then, here is the requisite Q&A that follows a straight month of reviewing any particular artist.

So, do you still like Nick Cave, or do you want to strangle him to death with one of his own socks?
I love Nick Cave's music. This month made me realize how close to "favorite artist" Nick Cave has become for me over the last couple of decades.

Why do you say this? 
Generally, when a certain artist puts out 15 albums (a huge rarity in itself), they peak around the fifth one, decline for the next five, and then put out five that they sell at their concerts, but only play one song from, much to the crowd's total indifference. Nick Cave's fifth album is pretty brilliant, but he only gets better after that--continuously, consistently better. I really like all but three of the fifteen, and there are about five that I've found are all-time favorites of mine. From one artist, that is an insane amount. Plus, when I saw him live a couple years ago, he played the majority of his newest album, and it went over great.

Did any of Cave's albums grow or lessen in your estimation this month?
Maybe I was influenced by certain critical opinions from back when Murder Ballads was released, but in the past, I thought this is great for what it is. Those opinions have changed over time to this is great because of what it is, if that makes any sense.

It doesn't. So what's up next for The Nicsperiment?
Well, considering how hard I pushed myself to write these fifteen reviews + two other posts over the course of 29 days, I am going to let March breathe a little bit more. With that said, I enjoyed writing these Cave reviews and how they came out more than anything else I've done in a while, so hopefully being more lenient with my output doesn't cause me to regress. I am planning on reviewing all of Nick Drake's comparatively much shorter discography (only three albums, plus a posthumous compilation of b-sides), as well as releasing a large piece of film criticism, and putting out a travelogue about the journey I undertook Tuesday.

Sounds like a nice pace. 
Just keep swimming.