Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Nick Drake: Pink Moon

Nick Drake was almost completely unknown in his short lifetime, released three albums between 1969 and 1972 that were a particularly distinctive kind of folk-rock, if it could be called that, and then disappeared further into depression and died in 1974 at age 26 from an overdose of antidepressants.  As is so often the case with young sensitive artists, a cult developed around Drake that has remained small, but strong, over the years.

This final recording, Pink Moon, is extraordinary in its insular simplicity, but with Drake's accomplished acoustic guitar playing, his penchant for plaintive melodies, and his affecting but unaffected vocal style, the album has a powerful pull on the listener through the course of its eleven songs in just over 26 minutes.

Only the title track, which opens the record, has instrumentation aside from Drake's guitar and vocals, as he overdubbed some piano on the piece, and this spare setting and crystalline production is part of the immersive experience, particularly if listened to on headphones.  To this blogger, it feels as if the experience is like that of a concert performed with only the listener as the audience. 

"Know" has almost a bluesy riff in the guitar, while "Horn" is an extremely sparse instrumental with single note phrasing creating a hushed and expectant atmosphere.  "Place to Be" has a memorable melodic statement, as does "Things Behind the Sun."

"Parasite" is, to this listener, is the centerpiece of the record.  Its hypnotic guitar playing dovetails beautifully with Drake's impressionistic lyrics and straightforward vocalizing and is a mesmerizing performance.  "Ride" has some wonderful guitar strumming and picking with another distinctive melody and chorus.

The short "Harvest Breed" might be the strangest piece on Pink Moon with its lyrics all but indecipherable, but it provides an interesting contrast to the closer, the gorgeous, "From the Morning," a tune that almost seems like the coda to a brilliant, short career that ended with Drake's almost total withdrawal from a world in which he was never comfortable and unable to find a place.

Often, the most powerful and affecting musical statements are those that are stripped down to essences.  After the somewhat baroque presentations of the first two albums, Five Leaves Left and Bryter Later, which are excellent recordings, Pink Moon distilled Drake's unique aesthetic to its barest attributes—to the point where Drake is said to have uttered that, after finishing the album, he had nothing further to say musically.  It is a phenomenal record that doesn't seem dated at all, but has a timeless acoustic purity that will likely remain a cult favorite for a very long time.

Nick Drake:  Pink Moon (Island Records, 1972; Rykodisc reissue on CD)

1.  Pink Moon  2:00
2.  Place to Be  2:39
3.  Road  1:58
4.  Which Will  2:56
5.  Horn  1:19
6.  Things Behind the Sun  3:23
7.  Know  2:23
8.  Parasite  3:30
9.  Ride 2:57
10.  Harvest Breed  1:00
11.  From the Morning  2:25

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