Since Nick Drake is basically the patron saint of obscure, beautiful, depressive singer-songwriters — the proto-Elliott Smith, if you will. And hearing that a new album of Nick Drake rarities, none of which have ever been heard before, is a little like hearing that the Police are going to reunite: one is both excited and a little afraid to hear what is coming. The late Mr. Drake will also be playing SxSW — or so it would seem, with a documentary, panel discussion, and set of tribute acts scheduled to show up.
All of the above is not bad for a guy who was legendary unknown even to his record company: in the press release for Drake’s final album Pink Moon, the Island Records guys said, "The second time [we saw Nick Drake recently] was a week or so ago, when he came in, smiling that weird little smile, half-mocking, half-bewildered, and handed over this, his new album. He'd just gone into the studios and recorded it without telling a soul except the engineer. And we haven't seen him since. The point of this, is this: Nobody at Island is really sure where Nick lives these days. We're pretty sure he left his flat in Hampstead quite a while ago…"
But all of this bull is just the hype machine turning for an artist 35 years dead, right? Well, except for the music. And if you listen to the unreleased track on Stereogum, "To the Garden,", do you begin to understand why people are willing to mount (parts of) festivals in this guy's honor so many years later? Er, with some difficulty. The sound quality is poor, the speed of the tape seems too slow (or else Drake's voice changed radically during his career). And yet, it's quintessential Nick Drake, that mix of melancholy and lyrical melody that is at the core of his latest recordings. Makes me wish he had recorded a clean take, and makes me very curious to hear what else he has up his mouldering sleeves.
Obligatory Nick Drake cross-reference #1: The title of this post is from a Clem Snide song, "Nick Drake Tape," "That Nick Drake tape you love/Tonight it sounds so good/As brown as leaves can get/And sleep is what you should."
Obligatory Nick Drake cross-reference #2: Christopher O'Riley, previously having released two albums of classical piano Radiohead covers and one of Elliott Smith tunes, has been doing Nick Drake songs in concert. I look forward to reviewing that disc when it comes out.