Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday, we deliver songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is the previously unreleased song “Cecelia/Amanda” by Elliott Smith, made available by Kill Rock Stars.
Elliott Smith. Well, where to start?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a musician, an artist, a singular voice, that means more to me than Elliott Smith. Like so many others, Elliott’s music affected my insides with the kind of emotional force that made me an instant fan for life. Each of his whispered words a razor-sharp secret, Elliott’s compositions hang between speakers like stories spoken in confidence. I owned everything in his catalogue within weeks. I still remember the first song of his I heard (“Clementine,” from his self-titled release on Kill Rock Stars) and where I was when he died (blowing dust from the lens of an IMAX projector). Even though I’d never met Elliott or even seen him play a complete set (I was late to a show once and caught his encore -- it wasn’t my fault, ugh) I used to look forward to his records like a proud best friend or brother. I think a lot of people felt that way about him. I guess the point that I am struggling to hone is that Elliott Smith was a special human being whose contributions to music can not be overstated.
On April 6th, Kill Rock Stars will rerelease Smith’s first and last records, 1994’s Roman Candle (originally on Cavity Search) and 2004’s From a Basement on a Hill (completed posthumously in 2004 by Rob Schnapf and Joanna Bolme for ANTI-). This will in effect bring the majority of his catalog (barring his two Dreamworks albums XO & Figure 8) home to the Northwest.
Often overlooked, Smith’s hushed Roman Candle is one of the most beautiful and telling records of his short career. Smith’s debut offers clues about the artist’s troubled childhood with the transparency of a young man that never expected to get his record made. Among his very best, these first three songs -- “Roman Candle,” “Condor Ave,” and “No Name #1” -- are the ultimate introduction to themes found throughout Elliott’s entire catalogue (Charlie, mom, withdrawal). Roman Candle is one hell of an honest record that showcases the primordial talents of a brilliant artist to be.
The new Kill Rock Stars version of Roman Candle has been re-mastered by Tape Op Editor and official Elliott Smith archivist Larry Crane. According to Crane, the updated version will be...
“more listenable. I felt that a lot of the guitar ‘squeaks’ were jarring and very loud, and that many of the hard consonants and ‘s’ sounds were jarring and scratchy sounding. I felt by reducing these noises that the music would become more inviting and the sound would serve the songs better.”
Important to note though is that 2010’s Roman Candle will not deviate from Elliott’s original mixes. Also important to note: this release also marks the first time the album will be available on vinyl.
In celebration of these recent additions, Kill Rock Stars has offered today’s featured song, “Cecelia/Amanda,” as a free MP3 download. The song, recorded by Larry Crane in 1997, is a lovely gift and elegant bridge between Elliott’s debut and final recordings. In 1997, Kill Rock Stars had just released Either/Or and Elliott was in the midst of what would become his highest level of mainstream exposure, beginning with his musical contribution to fellow Portlander Gus Van Sant’s film Good Will Hunting and culminating with an Oscar nomination (and performance) for his song “Miss Misery.” At this time, Elliott was working on the tracks that would become the shining apex of his discography, his Dreamworks debut, XO. It is with this fourth record that Smith’s transformation from thinly produced lo-fi singer-songwriter to multi-instrumentalist baroque pop master would come into full bloom.
Along the way Larry Crane recorded “Cecelia/Amanda,” a near complete lyrical reworking of a track entitled “Time is Ours Now,” originally recorded by Smith’s high school band Stranger Than Fiction. Despite its origins, this rework sounds like middle ground between Either/Or and XO. XO marked the first time Elliott, a proficient pianist since an early age, chose to bring the pop-mainstay of his idols to the forefront of his own compositions. Suddenly, Elliott’s doubled vocals and skillful finger-picking found their perfect counter-part in colorfully upbeat piano arrangements. “Cecilia/Amanda” is a lost example of this musical big bang -- a precursor of sorts to the brilliance of “Waltz #2,” “Baby Britain,” and “Independence Day.”
I realize I’ve said very little about From a Basement on a Hill. This may sound completely ridiculous, but I have listened to it very little over the years since its original release. Like most of his other albums, I think I bought it on the first day it was available, on LP, but decided to save it for a time when I really needed some new Elliott. I guess on some level I wasn’t ready for Elliott Smith’s last tracks. Sitting here tonight, listening to “Cecilia/Amanda,” Roman Candle, Elliott Smith, Either/Or, XO, and Figure 8, I think it’s finally time to dust off Elliott’s final gift.