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Roman Candle (Remastered)

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Album Review

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.

Customer Reviews

Not bad for something recorded beneath the stairs

Amazing that he did this on the cheap, recording secretly in the basement onto an ordinary cassette tape with a Tascam Portastudio 4-track, trying to keep these songs to himself while living with his Heatmiser bandmates. Roman Candle's dissonant electric overlay of an elastic, shifting interval rubbed between the partial tones separating a major 7 from an octave is a preview of brilliant harmonic concepts to come. No Name #4 crushes me with its mix of comedy and tragic circumstance. Kiwi Maddog is allegedly a leftover from a recording he made while still in high school, which might be absolutely incredible if it were someone else. Always wondered what might have emerged if he gave the songs from the time of his first 3 solo releases (an insanely prolific and profound period which would include most of the material from New Moon plus a few more disks of as yet unreleased songs) the polished, multi-tracked, full arrangements he gave to XO and Figure 8 (and half of Basement–minus the polish), like comparing "first timer" to "Ghost Writer (From a Poison Well)"...
Such a devastating loss, the years have only made that more clear.

Top 3 of my most favorite, don't die without it albums

Every song on here is part of something that is so much greater than the individual pieces.

I don't know how to explain it. You can change your life in 30 minutes with this album.

Kiwi Maddog 20/20

Why is this track mesmerizing me so much? It's that frankly awesome day that you know in your hearts of heart can't last, will not last, will have to end, put into sounds.... It makes me cry.


Born: August 6, 1969 in Omaha, NE

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

The celebrated folk-punk singer/songwriter Elliott Smith rose from indie obscurity to mainstream success in 1997 on the strength of "Miss Misery," his Academy Award-nominated song from the film Good Will Hunting. A native of Portland, Oregon, Smith began writing and recording his first songs at age 14, later becoming a fixture of the city's thriving music scene. As a member of the band Heatmiser, he debuted in 1993 with the LP Dead Air, issuing his first solo effort, Roman Candle, on the tiny Cavity...
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