Things that are missing from and/or embarrassing with Pitchfork’s review today of Elliott Smith’s Roman Candle and From a Basement on the Hill:
1) A single paragraph in this review is spent discussing Roman Candle. This graf somehow earns it a 7.8. The fact that the album, Smith’s solo debut and his most fumblingly lo-fi/experimental effort, has been remastered is mentioned only in passing; that New Moon‘s Larry Crane did the remastering is not discussed at all, nor is its first-time-ever vinyl release. One would think these might be talking points in a review of a reissue. (Did I mention that Roman Candle is my favorite album of all time? Oh, yeah.)
2) The rest of the review is spent discussing From a Basement, suddenly worthy of an 8.4 despite the fact that nothing about it has changed whatsoever since Pitchfork gave it a 7.2 in 2004. This is essentially a second printing. The new release isn’t remastered and contains no bonus tracks; there’s nothing new to say about it except for the self-evident, single-sentence fact that, yes, it’s a harrowing record made a bit easier to listen to a few years removed from Smith’s tragic death.
3) Basement is a raw, angry record rusted through with distorted guitars. So, to an extent, is Roman Candle. This is the thematic and sonic link between the two, and what makes them interesting career bookends. In case you were wondering. Smith also used to play in a alternative rock band called Heatmiser whose sound and influence should probably be mentioned here, but that would be complicated.
4) Judging by a search of his work for the site, Jayson Greene, the writer behind the piece, is primarily a hip-hop scribe who has reviewed such records as Wale’s The Mixtape About Nothing, the Game’s L.A.X., Nosaj Thing and Baby Charles for Pitchfork. He also openly trashes Smith’s Figure 8 for being too polished before calling out Roman Candle for not being polished enough. Clearly, this is a critic with demonstrable familiarity and expertise within the singer-songwriter genre and the proper understanding of the Smith back catalog.
5) Look, folks, I hate getting all Ripfork here and it’s not news that Pitchfork’s never liked Smith much (Ryan Schreiber himself gave Figure 8 a 6.9 in 2000), but for crying out loud, this is a Monday morning lead review — you’d think someone would bother actually reviewing the reissue treatment of the album that’s getting one, or (God forbid!) take the opportunity to delve into what’s probably Smith’s least-heard album some 16 years later.
If you, dear reader, take that opportunity for yourself, your reward will be one of the most fascinatingly arranged, evocatively written albums ever made. Or you could listen to a Wale mixtape about Seinfeld. The choice is yours.