14 Aug 2015

Top 5 Elliott Smith songs

I think broadly, while my music taste is really diverse and I don't have favourite genres, I have a tendency to prefer loud, shouty guitar bands over stripped down singer-songwriters. However, with Elliott Smith, a singer-songwriter who so perfectly captured that slightly-rustic, fragile, beautiful American indie sound that Sparklehorse, Modest Mouse and the like are also so brilliant at. With what was sometimes just a guitar, and other times a much more elaborate arrangement, Elliott Smith made some of the most beautiful underground music of his generation, right up until his tragic death in 2003. He's my favourite singer-songwriter, and here is my favourite five of his songs.

5. Let's Get Lost (off From A Basement On A Hill, 2004)
Whilst Elliott might be best known for his sadder numbers, this is a stripped down escapist number full of life and optimism. In it, Smith wants to Find some beautiful place to get lost, and in delivering the sentiment he genuinely sounds really like someone that wants to find, well, some beautiful place to get lost. It's maybe one of Smith's lesser known gems, coming out on his posthumous 2004 album From A Basement On A Hill, but it's certainly a beautiful song.

4. Rose Parade (off Either/Or, 1997)
I've always said the album from which this comes is one of the best albums ever released, every single song on it is absolute gold. From the frantic Pictures of Me, to the bleak, dark 2.45AM, to the very end with the upbeat balladry of Say Yes, every second of Either/Or is perfect. Rose Parade is one of my favourite cuts from the album, and like #5 in the countdown, it's one of Elliott's less downbeat tracks - from what I make of it, Elliott's at some kinda parade and is so introverted that he's overthinking everything and can't take his mind off the trumpeter that got too drunk the night before to focus on playing. It's a really melodically lovely track that features some really brilliant lyrics.

3. Roman Candle (off Roman Candle, 1994)
The archetypal early Elliott composition, Roman Candle is the point in the countdown at which I stop talking about his more upbeat songs. Roman Candle is the dark, frustrated opener from his first album as a solo musician, and it contains all of those themes people associate with Elliott Smith; the feelings of rejection he puts across in this song are so raw and moving, and he sounds so brittle as he sings 'I wanna hurt him/I wanna give him pain/I'm a Roman Candle... head full of flames', but as though he's a quiet guy that's been storing up rage and anger all his life. It's a fucking powerful track.

2. Needle In The Hay (off Elliott Smith, 1995)
Right, so maybe this is a bit more of an obvious pick for a top Elliott Smith track, this is one of those songs that you indie kids might know from the Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums, because it's in that oh-so-cheery scene where the hot guy (whose name escapes me) attempts suicide. It's one of Smith's most well-known songs, and I guess the meaning of this stripped back solo track is very open to interpretation, but a lot of the lines in it really hit me hard. 'So leave me alone/You ought to be proud that I’m getting good marks' is just so cutting, because it implies that he's talking to a parent about what is probably heroin addiction, and it's just a heartbreaking track. Despite this though, like all of his music, there's a certain beauty achieved with Elliott's low-key sincerity and his almost whispered vocal delivery, and again, like all his music, it's so easy to get lost in.

1. Between the Bars (off Either/Or, 1997)
So this one probably won't be a surprise to anyone that follows me on twitter and checks my 3AM tweets regularly that this is my absolute favourite, because I've definitely informed the world about how great this is many post-midnight times before. But even though I'm trying to think of a way to say this without resorting to hyperbole but that's downright impossible. This 2.28 punch of crippling sadness is one of the greatest songs ever written, with every single second of it being evocative, crushingly sad, and almost frantic, so not a second is wasted as Elliott's beautiful voice just washes over you. It was kinda tough picking a favourite song by one of my favourite artists, but this is a completely transcendent masterpiece that (sad) people will be listening to forever and ever.

RIP Elliott.