Review : Elliott Smith - An Introduction To.
OnethirtybpmI elected to review An Introduction to… Elliott Smith because like so many disillusioned teenagers, Elliott Smith’s music connected with me on a level matched by few contemporary artists. And that, I believe, is the key to its longevity; even his most intimate, quiet songs carry with them the consciousness of shared experience. Elliott Smith fans have countless stories of discovering his music, but our love of his work essentially boils down to the same sad admiration of an artist whose inner torments was at once revealed and masked by his often gorgeous melodies and heartbreaking instrumentation. His barest acoustic tracks and his most embellished, later output alike sound fragile and helpless, musical confidence aside.
But then it hit me that I wasn’t sure exactly how to approach this album. Is “introduction” synonymous with “best-of”? Is this a greatest hits release, so to speak? After all, the best (and easiest) way to become acquainted with an artist’s work is to listen to its greatest moments; hit singles serve as accessible, familiar entryways to the stranger, darker, or less immediately palatable songs that make up every musician’s back catalogue.
Similarly, I wonder how comprehensive this Introduction is supposed to be. After all, Kill Rock Stars and Domino Records isn’t pretending that these selected tracks span Smith’s brief but dense career; a recent a press release, reveals that they’re releasing this compilation in the hopes of “providing a pathway for people to delve more deeply into his immensely satisfying catalogue.” It seems to me that the most appropriate way to judge An Introduction to…Elliott Smith is on its own terms—is this truly a worthy introduction to a man to whom tribute has been posthumously paid by such high-profile acts as Rilo Kiley and Ben Folds?
Well, that depends on just which Elliott Smith you’re talking about. The guy who penned Roman Candle is not the same musician as the guy who recorded Figure 8, and the progression from sparse guitar whispers to more elaborate, high-fidelity productions is the defining characteristic of Smith’s career arc. But this Introduction consists almost exclusively of the former. Of fourteen tracks, five come from Either/Or while another three hail from the early lo-fi years of Roman Candle and its self-titled followup. This collection covers its sad-man-with-a-guitar bases, to be sure, but it does so at the expense of Smith’s equally emotional, lush tracks....full text
BbcIt’s now seven years since American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith was pronounced dead in a Los Angeles hospital shortly after apparently stabbing himself twice in the heart.
Those familiar with Smith’s music were saddened but not surprised that this troubled individual chose to end things this way. Over seven albums, two released posthumously, the Nebraska native penned a stream of melodic, literate but deeply bitter and bleak songs, cataloguing his battles with alcoholism, drugs and depression with sometimes savage honesty.
Despite a brief flirtation with mainstream success after his Miss Misery was nominated for a Best Song Oscar following its appearance on the soundtrack of hit film Good Will Hunting, Smith generally eschewed commercialism and seemed more comfortable as a cult figure. As is invariably the case, his reputation has grown since his death, but this compilation only serves to reinforce his status as an intriguing but flawed artist.
Early songs like Last Call (from 1994 debut Roman Candle) set the template – Smith’s acoustic jangle, occasionally punctuated by squalls of jagged electric guitar that betray his punk roots, with murmured, portentous lyrics such as "I’m lying here waiting for sleep to take me".
Later inclusions here, for example Waltz #2 (XO) from 1998’s XO and Happiness from 2000’s Figure 8, show Smith adopting a more widescreen approach, perhaps in response to the new DreamWorks Records deal he signed after his unexpected Oscars exposure. But despite fuller instrumentation and a more upbeat sound influenced by The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, Smith is still as relentlessly melancholy as ever, singing of a girl "who made her life a lie so she’d never have to know anyone"....full text
PitchforkA number of seminal musicians emerged in the 1990s and died prematurely, and sadly most of their fates were heavily foreshadowed. Both Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur spent much of their waking lives being their own best eulogizers; the Notorious B.I.G. named his debut album Ready to Die; and Jeff Buckley, to many, seemed fragile and vulnerable throughout his life. For those who spent years following his considerably quieter trajectory, so did Elliott Smith.
Where those other musicians pushed the dynamics of their chosen genres, Smith achieved his by inverse means. His real-life meekness, softness, and raw emotion never demanded or required anything as tragically operatic as cavernous reverb, barbed wire guitars, or ominous meditations on his own legacy as a musician. With the studio-produced exceptions of 1998's sublime XO and 2000's Figure 8, both funded on Dreamworks' dime, Smith's legacy was largely achieved via a house style that's about as common and as ordinary as it gets: a guy and an acoustic guitar.
Smith's hallmark, then, was his virtuosity: not just as a guitarist, though he frequently made one sound like two and two sound like four, or as a songwriter, though he rigorously engineered dazzlingly complicated chord sequences and melodies, but also in his singing, which had the singular quality of sounding hushed, hangdog, affable, and sweetly melodic all at once. His lyrics, meanwhile, alternated with conflicted ripples of wisdom, longing, and adolescent angst, the sweetness of the music often belying the sentiment underneath.
An Introduction To... is Kill Rock Stars' pitch at a Smith career primer, and although one could get caught up in questioning the need for any such anthology in the download era, it is pretty fantastically difficult to fault as a collection of songs, and KRS' intentions and target audience are clear. Ranging from Smith's relatively spotty 1994 solo debut Roman Candle (from which only one selection appears) through to " Miss Misery", the pivot point of his career, knowingly offered here in an early, pre-Oscar nominated incarnation, through to a few selections from New Moon, 2007's posthumous collection of vaulted odds and ends, it's more a testimony to the ferociously high quality of work that comprised Smith's catalogue than any triumph of curation....full text
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