Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: Elliott Smith

Taking a break from our standard format, the Toaster Talks introduces the Hall of Fame series, in which we pick three songs from artists that make up the Toaster's daily bread.

This week it's Elliott Smith. Sure, he's the typical indie singer-songwriter most mentioned in "oh-he-sounds-like" circles (I'm like a happier Elliott Smith; it's like Elliott Smith, if he was a reggae band with a 1930s pop flair). This, we suggest, is only a testament to the man's songwriting credability, which he built on demos and low-fi basement recordings into the studio gems he'd later produce and indie snobs would later reject.

Picking three songs is incredibly difficult. Alas, it's our task.

"I Better Be Quiet Now" - Figure 8 (2000) - The first Elliott song Mister Toaster fell in love with. The doubled vox, the subtle, complex guitar part that acts as the lone accompaniment. In retrospect, this was the sound that had made Elliott distinctive, the lovely melodies and tear-you-down lyrics. In the end, the "sound" is just Elliott's complex simplicity - which he retained throughout his career, whether it be recorded by a four track in his basement or with a tracking producer in a studio.

"A lot of hours to occupy / It was easy when I didn't know you yet / Things I'd have to forget"

"Pictures of Me" - Either/Or (1997) - Just like the way it rocks with Elliott anger. The whole song is strange and understated with Elliott alternating between singing in the lower and higher registers -- from the creepy near-whisper to his sweet near-yelling. It's a song with an arrangement hinting at the kinds of harmonies and tone changes that would show up on future albums.

"I'm not surprised at all, and really why should I be?"

"Sweet Adeline" - XO - (1998) - The perfect start to the Toaster's favorite Elliott Smith album. Its simplicity, the sound perfected on Elliott's previous albums, bursts into the chorus at 01:33, indicating XO would be a new kind of Elliott Smith record - a collection of high-fidelity, precisely produced songs that bring Beatlish pop sense to the somber lyrics. The result is the creation of a new signature sound, as the piano, organ and drums takes the hook from Elliott's acoustic.

"Make it over, make it stay away. Or hate'll say the ending that love started to say."

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