Elliott Smith - Roman Candle (1994), 8/10

Recorded and released while Elliott was still a member of Heatmiser, this album is essentially a mixtape recorded in his girlfriend's basement. The label had to convince him to release it as an album! To be fair, while the songwriting shows unparalleled talent, the original cut is rough, so the remaster is worth transitioning to. While it lacks the polish of his later recordings, the raw emotional power is unmatched by his other work. There is a supremely intimate quality to his performances of course, but also in his approach to songwriting and composition that make these songs distinguished among his very best. When you buy into the story and the aesthetic of the record, it is unmatched in effect not only within such a talented songwriter’s discography, but more broadly as an unparalleled set of folk-rock songs. That said, it does have an individual appeal that can’t really be described without simply pressing play. It will likely most appeal to outsiders, jilted lovers and emotionally stunted sad bastards such as myself. While I tend to disagree with the evaluation that it feels separate and disjointed, I rather find it so intimately connected to its creator that the album feels palpably depressive in a way that substantially furthers its effectiveness, its simple appeal as a collection of songs that are touching for aching souls is undeniable. Elliott’s writing skill is as clear as his proficiency as a guitarist, especially considering the atypical rhythm and harmony choices on songs like “Condor Ave”, all furthering the record’s stance as outsider appealing. For those of us who also can’t buy into his later work, it serves as a complete foil to his aesthetic and production choices on XO and Figure 8, it is wonderfully raw and primal. I can understand the divisive nature of such a lo-fi, personal and vulnerable recording; you will likely either unabashedly love the album or be wholly disinterested by its statements. I find myself in the former camp and will forever find a warm comfort in its individual and charmingly vulnerable beauty.