Nick Drake: Bryter Later (1971)
While Drake's third and final album, the more stripped-down Pink Moon, is undeniably stunning, Bryter Later retains some of the orchestral pop flourishes of the debut, a middle ground that finds him blending acoustic folk and ethereal, post-psychedelic baroque melancholia into one of the most gentle, relaxing albums I've ever heard. It's arguably a little slight, the opening and closing instrumentals and the instrumental title track leaving just 7 vocal tracks, but there's more than enough sheer bliss in its running time.
"Hazey Jane II" is the closest Drake ever got to straight-out pop, and it's probably my favorite song of his (well, alongside "Pink Moon"), the subtle brass and strings making Drake's typically sad and hypnotic folk leanings positively buoyant. Close behind is the similarly tuneful "One Of These Things," another captivating and infectious tune that is remarkably complex for all its simplicity. And then you've got the yearning, beautiful "Fly," one of those tunes that just hits you in the gut, and the final vocal track, "Northern Sky," which in other hands could have been a sappy love song but from Drake is a moving work of epic poetry.
And while the instrumentals that bookend the album aren't necessarily essential, pretty though they may be, the title track tucked into the middle of the album is positively gorgeous, a tune that most perfectly encapsulates the album's unique ability to sound both like a clear relic of the early 70s yet standing absolutely outside of time.
Like all of Drake's phenomenal three-album run, this works best as accompaniment for a Sunday morning, the sun just starting to rise and stream in your windows, and it's long been one of my go-to's when I'm unsure how I want to kick off a lazy day.
Sadly, there aren't any video clips from Drake's tragically brief time with us, but someone set their holiday videos to the title instrumental, and it's quite lovely: