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Pop/Rock - Released December 7, 2004 | Domino Recording Co

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Elliott Smith's third album sees his one-man show getting a little more ambitious. While he still plays all the instruments himself, he plays more of them. Several of the songs mimic the melody mastery of pop bands from 1960s. The most alluring numbers, however, are still his quietly melancholy acoustic ones. While the full-band songs are catchy and smart, Smith's recording equipment isn't quite up to the standards set by the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The humbler arrangements are better suited to the sparse equipment. "Between the Bars," for example, plays Smith's strengths perfectly. He sings, in his endearingly limited whisper, of late-night drinking and introspection, and his subdued strumming creates a minor-key mood befitting the mysteries of self. "Angeles" is equally ethereal -- Smith's acoustic fingerpicking spins out notes which briskly move around a single atmospheric keyboard chord, like aural minnows swimming toward a solitary light at the surface of the water. The lyrics are a darkly biting rejection of the hypercapitalist dream machinery of Los Angeles (it would make a great theme song for Smith's label, Kill Rock Stars). Ironically, "Angeles" was included on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, which won Smith the acclaim of Hollywood's biggest, brightest, and best connected voting body, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Smith's stock in L.A. soared after he took his bow at the Oscars with Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood. It might have been more interesting had he sung "Angeles." ~ Darryl Cater

Pop/Rock - Released October 18, 2004 | Domino Recording Co

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Almost exactly a year after his untimely death -- missing the anniversary by just two days -- Elliott Smith's final recordings were released as the From a Basement on the Hill album. Smith had been working on the album for a long time. His last album, Figure 8, had appeared in 2000, and when it came time to record its follow-up, he parted ways with both his major label, Dreamworks, and his longtime producer/engineer, Rob Schnapf, working through a number of different producers, including L.A. superproducer Jon Brion, before recording a number of sessions with David McConnell, which were supplemented with Smith's home recordings. At the time of his death, Smith was still tinkering with the album. There was no final track sequence and only a handful of final mixes; it was closer to completion than Jeff Buckley's Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, which he intended to re-record, but it was still up to his family to finalize the record. For various reasons, the family chose to work with Schnapf and Joanna Bolme -- a former girlfriend of Smith and current member of Stephen Malkmus' Jicks -- instead of McConnell, who went on record with Kimberly Chun of The San Francisco Bay Area Guardian the week before the release of From a Basement to state that this album was not exactly what Smith intended it to be. According to McConnell, as well as Elliott Smith biographer Benjamin Nugent, Smith wanted the album to be rough and ragged, and McConnell told Chun that "obviously Elliott did not get his wishes," claiming that three of the songs on the album were considered finished by both him and Smith, but appear on the record in different mixes. It's hard to dispute that Smith did not get to finalize the mixes, the track selection, or the sequencing -- he died, after all, with the album uncompleted -- but that's the nature of posthumous recordings: they're never quite what might have appeared had the artist lived. Critics, fans, and historians can have endless debates about whether this particular incarnation of the songs on From a Basement on the Hill would have been what would have been heard if Smith had finished the record, but that doesn't take away from the simple fact that the music here is strong enough to warrant a release, and that it offers a sense of resolution to his discography. While it's likely that From a Basement is cleaner than what Smith and McConnell intended, it is much sparer than Figure 8, and it feels at once more adventurous, confident, and warmer than its predecessor. Perhaps it's not "the next White Album," which is what McConnell claims it could have been, but it has a similarly freewheeling spirit, bouncing from sweet pop to fingerpicked acoustic guitars to fuzzy neo-psychedelic washes of sound. It's not far removed from Smith's previous work, but it feels like a step forward from the fussy Figure 8 and more intimate than XO. The most surprising twist is that despite the occasional lyrics that seem to telegraph his death (particularly on "A Fond Farewell"), it's not a crushingly heavy album. Like the best of his music, From a Basement on the Hill is comforting in its sadness; it's empathetic, not alienating. Given Smith's tragic fate, it also sadly seems like a summation of his work. All of his trademarks are here -- his soft, sad voice, a fixation on '60s pop, a warm sense of melancholy -- delivered in a strong set of songs that stands among his best. It may or may not be exactly what Elliott Smith intended these recording sessions to be, but as it stands, From a Basement on the Hill is a fond farewell to a singer/songwriter who many indie rockers of the '90s considered a friend. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | Geffen*

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
A year before his major-label debut, XO, was released, it seemed unlikely that Elliott Smith would even be on a major, let alone having his record be one of the more anticipated releases of 1998. He had certainly earned a great deal of critical respect with his low-key, acoustic indie records and was emerging as a respected songwriter, but he hadn't made much of an impression outside of journalists, record collectors, and indie rockers. An Oscar nomination can change things, however. "Miss Misery," one of Smith's elegantly elegiac songs for Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, unexpectedly earned an Academy Award nomination, and he was immediately thrust into the spotlight. He was reluctant to embrace instant celebrity, yet he didn't refuse a contract with DreamWorks, and he didn't shy away from turning XO into a glorious fruition of his talents. Smith's songs remain intensely introspective, yet the lush, Beatlesque production provides a terrifically charming counterpoint. His sweetly dark melodies are vividly brought to life with the detailed arrangements, and they sell Smith's tormented songs -- it's easy to get caught up in the tunes and the sound of the record, then realize later what the songs are actually about. That's a sign of a good craftsman, and XO proves that not only can Elliott Smith craft a song, but he knows how to make an alluring pop record as well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Alternative & Indie - Released March 10, 2017 | Universal Music

Distinctions Best New Reissue

Pop/Rock - Released April 3, 2010 | Domino Recording Co

Elliott Smith began his career like most aspiring musicians in the Northwestern states: putting in the requisite hours in a grunge band. Being a team player, however, is not Smith's forte. After those buzzy shows in the bars of Portland, OR, he would retreat backstage with his acoustic guitar and whisper his own quiet songs to himself. This album is his first attempt to record those songs, and they capture that feeling perfectly: a loner retreating from the noisy tension of life with others, finding solace in musical solitude. Roman Candle was, in fact, recorded in solitude on a four-track in a basement. Smith played all the instruments himself. He has said that he's always surprised when people call his songs "sad," because playing them always made him happy. You can hear that reclusive joy in the light bounce of the melodies and hushed harmonies (which recall Simon & Garfunkel). But his lyrics are haunted by the downbeat, drug-addled life from which he was retreating. For all their cryptic cleverness, there is a restless unhappiness in his fragmented stories of alienated urbanites. After that description, a reference to the definitive folk loner, Nick Drake, is inevitable. Smith's whispery vocals and able fingerpicking deserve the comparison. The highlight of Roman Candle is the title track. The quietly driving acoustic guitars and threatening bass create a disturbing portrait of a human time bomb, barely containing a seething and simmering undercurrent of bitterness. The rest of the album, by comparison, is pure sunlight. ~ Darryl Cater

Pop/Rock - Released May 6, 2007 | Domino Recording Co

Before he died in 2003, Elliott Smith released five albums (plus the posthumous From a Basement on the Hill), but he had dozens and dozens of songs recorded, either alone on a four track or with friends in various studio settings, that had never seen the light of day. Kill Rock Stars -- the label for which he made arguably two of his best records, 1995's Elliott Smith and 1997's Either/Or -- with help from the late singer's archivist, Larry Crane, collected a handful of these pieces, added extensive and often personal liner notes, and made them available to the public under the title New Moon. Written and recorded between 1994 and 1997, the 24 tracks on New Moon showcase Smith at his most instinctive and natural, when he uses hardly more than his (double-tracked) voice and his guitar. Though some of the songs here, especially the earlier ones, can be quite simple, even raw at times, there's a sad, clean sweetness that comes through despite the occasional bit of tape hiss, of tinny chords. In fact, much was done by the album's producers to maintain the integrity of Smith's original tracks, remixing them only when absolutely necessary (the only song that took vocal and instrumental elements from two different sessions is "New Disaster," and is clearly marked as such). This means that New Moon embodies an unadulterated Smith, singing and playing songs how he wanted to, carefully layering his voice and adding the occasional harmony, the second guitar, the subtle drum tap -- and with little of the full-band sound he moved into after he left KRS and went to a major label -- but it doesn't mean that the pieces sound incomplete or unprofessional; almost all them could've been included on one of Smith's albums, and in fact many of them were near to making the cut. "Looking Over My Shoulder" has a great hook, catchy in that monotonously melodic kind of way Smith knew how to do best. "You're always coming over with all of your friends and all their opinions I don't want to know," he sings, a slight anger in his voice, while "All Cleaned Out" reveals a kind of pity for his subject. There's a depth of emotion in New Moon, more than pure sadness, seen in his cover of Big Star's "Thirteen," recorded live in DJ Rob Jones's basement and played back later on air, the near indignation of "Georgia, Georgia," the fast picking on "Almost Over." Even the rendition of "Miss Misery" included here, the song that propelled him into the spotlight, has a lightness that doesn't exist in the final product. Instead of that hauntingly sad refrain, that last plea, "Do you miss me, miss misery like you say you do?" Smith hints at a different ending. "'Cause it's all right, some enchanted night I'll be with you," he sings. There's distant hope for redemption, for resolution here, something that was not present in the later version. In fact, that's the overall feeling that New Moon gives, a sense of opportunity, of possibility, of life within the bleak reality. The album portrays a more stable Smith and promises something brilliant to come, full of words and chords that will touch thousands, alluding to the future and the past, but mostly, in its own quiet way, screaming to show off the immense talents of one man and his songs. ~ Marisa Brown

Pop/Rock - Released December 6, 2004 | Domino Recording Co

Elliott Smith's self-titled second album was his first for the Kill Rock Stars label and also his first major artistic statement. Its sound is fairly similar to that of Roman Candle -- it's mostly just Smith and his gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar, embellished a bit more often with drums, harmony vocals, and the odd additional instrument. The main difference here is that Smith's melodies and lyrics reveal their greater strength and substance with repeated listens. And make no mistake, the songs do require repeated listens -- not just because of Smith's often whispery, spiderweb-thin delivery, but also because of his deceptively angular melodies and chord progressions, which threaten to float away until the listener hears them enough to latch on and know where they're going. Smith is often compared to Paul Simon or the Beatles in their softer moments, but perhaps the best touchstone for this early sound is Nick Drake's even more minimalistic Pink Moon; while Smith's language is rawer and tougher than Drake's haunting poetics, his songs also deal with depression and loneliness, creating an almost uncomfortable intimacy with their bare-bones arrangements. The quiet prettiness of Smith's sound can make it easy to overlook the darker, edgier side of his songs -- many of Smith's embittered characters cope with their dysfunctional relationships or breakups through substance abuse, while some of the lyrics read more like angry, defiant punk rants when separated from the music. Smith would flesh out his sound with the albums to come, but Elliott Smith contains the blueprint for his later successes, and more importantly, it's a fully realized work itself. ~ Steve Huey

Pop/Rock - Released November 1, 2010 | Domino Recording Co

Pop/Rock - Released November 1, 2010 | Domino Recording Co

Rock - Released January 1, 2000 | Universal Music

Judging only by his earlier, bare-bones indie-label albums, it seemed highly unlikely that Elliott Smith would turn into the ambitious arranger and studio craftsman of his lushly textured Dreamworks debut, XO. A big part of that shift, of course, was the fact that Smith had major-label finances and equipment to work with for the first time; this allowed him to fuse his melancholy, slightly punky folk with the rich sonics of pop artists like the Beatles and Beach Boys. Smith continues in that direction for the follow-up, Figure 8, an even more sonically detailed effort laden with orchestrations and inventive production touches. With a couple of exceptions, the sound of Smith's melancholy has largely shifted from edgy to sighingly graceful, although his lyrics are as dark as ever. Even if the subject matter stays in familiar territory, though, the backing tracks are another matter -- a gorgeous, sweeping kaleidoscope of layered instruments and sonic textures. Smith fleshes his songs out with assurance and imagination, and that newfound sense of mastery is ultimately the record's real emphasis; there's seemingly a subtle new wrinkle to the sound of every track, and yet it's all easily recognizable as trademark Smith. Even if it is a very impressive statement overall, Figure 8 isn't quite the masterpiece it wants to be -- there's something about the pacing that just makes the record feel long (at over 52 minutes, it is the longest album in Smith's catalog), and it can sometimes float away from the listener's consciousness. Perhaps it's that Smith's songwriting does slip on occasion here, which means that those weaker tracks sink under the weight of arrangements they aren't equipped to support. Still, most of the songs do reveal their strengths with repeated plays, and it's worth the price of a few nondescript items to reap the rewards of the vast majority. Fans who miss the intimacy of his Kill Rock Stars records won't find much to rejoice about here, but overall, Figure 8 comes tantalizingly close to establishing Elliott Smith as the consummate pop craftsman he's bidding to become. ~ Steve Huey

Film Soundtracks - Released February 5, 2015 | Universal Music

Pop - Released November 1, 2010 | Universal Music

Elliott Smith's tragic death in 2003 left a gaping wound in the indie rock community. There weren’t many singer/songwriter/producers around who could make music so raw and honest, so personal and universal, that it could touch you no matter how it was presented. Just Smith and a four-track in his bedroom or sitting behind the piano at Abbey Road, it didn’t matter. His songs meant a lot to a lot of people and his records have become treasured parts of people’s lives. This collection gathers up songs from throughout his career, taking tracks from each of Smith's albums and the two posthumous compilations that were released. The songs are extremely well chosen and give a glimpse of Smith both as a harrowingly honest writer and an amazingly gifted creator of memorable pop songs. It’s a fine starting point for someone looking to discover Smith, but even if you have all his albums, it serves as a greatest-hits collection of sorts and only confirms just how awful not having him here truly is. ~ Tim Sendra

Pop - Released January 1, 2007 | Universal Music

Pop - Released October 18, 2004 | Universal Music

Alternative & Indie - Released November 22, 2000 | Suicide Squeeze Records