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Saturday, 24 November 2012 12:15

Falling in love with music: 'Five Leaves Left' by Nick Drake + Video

Falling in love with music: 'Five Leaves Left' by Nick Drake
Written by Chris Bay

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The first album from storied British singer-songwriter Nick Drake, "Five Leaves Left," is also his best. It's a near-perfect collection of elemental expressions that fully embodies the spiritual characteristics of fall.

Aside from the album's title and the first verse of "River Man" -- "Betty came by on her way / said she had a word to say / about things today / and fallen leaves" -- Drake never references fall directly. That the record so immediately recalls the season is due to its parallel with a more abstract conception of fall.

Among the ideas associated with fall are transition, stillness, reflection and comfort, each of which is relevant to cycles of the spirit as well as to cycles of nature. Drake's songs blur divisions between the individual and the external world, a philosophy co-opted from the East. "Time Has Told Me," the album's first track, provides an immediate example.

Time has told me
You're a rare, rare find
A troubled cure
For a troubled mind

And time has told me
Not to ask for more
For someday our ocean
Will find its shore

The pairings "troubled cure/troubled mind" and "ocean/shore" work across the verses as well, with ocean and shore serving as metaphors for cure and mind, respectively. The world around us holds the answers, and stillness provides the clarity needed to see them. This idea is not unfamiliar to anyone that's taken a long, contemplative walk on a November Sunday, with dry leaves scratching the sidewalk underfoot.

Aside from the thematic parallels to fall, the record also references the season in a very visceral way. Its 10 songs are nebulous, hypnotic and settling, each a slightly different shade of autumn. Where words fall short in describing the connection of the music to the season, the resonance of memories and senses is immediate. In these melancholy notes -- brought to warm life by little more than Drake's guitar, with some piano, bass and string arrangements -- a synesthete might see burnt-orange oak leaves or taste warm, milky tea.

At some point each year -- around the time the days are shortest and there are no leaves left -- this record ceases to mirror the outside world. But there's still comfort in knowing that it's only a matter of months before the cycle returns, and that when it does, there will still be answers in these songs.

Discover more great autumn albums in our "Falling in Love With Music" series.

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