Tag Archives: Kill Rock Stars

Remastered, expanded edition of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or coming in March

Either/Or was the first Elliott Smith album I bought. Like a lot of people outside the Pacific Northwest my first exposure to Elliott Smith was the movie Good Will Hunting. Or maybe a pal put something on a mixtape. I can’t remember why but at the time I was opposed to buying soundtracks, so I picked up Either/Or essentially as a way to get my favorite song from the film: “Say Yes.”

I immediately became obsessed. Songs like “Ballad of Big Nothing” and “Rose Parade” had a melodic sensibility that appealed to the Beatles fanatic in me and the dark, clever lyrics were right up my Tom Waits-loving, low-life alley. The recording sounded like it was made by people who reeked of stale cigarette smoke and beer sweat. This was the 90s and bars couldn’t be divey enough for people like us. The dirtier and cheaper, the better. Elliott Smith sounded like a guy we might see in the corner booth at Teazer’s, sipping something in a rocks glass and nodding along and smirking when a not-too-terrible song got played on the jukebox. This is what I projected onto him anyway from listening to the album and looking at the cover photo.

We didn’t have wikipedia in those days so I had to gather clues by scouring the liner notes: “recorded at joanna’s house, my house, the shop, undercover inc., heatmiser house, and laundry rules.” The label was Kill Rock Stars, the home of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. This was all we had to go on, to make up narratives of our own.

Years later, I’d finally get a chance to see him in concert, but the show was a disaster and he was a mess. A year and a half later, he was dead.

Since then, there have been a number of posthumous releases. First there was From a Basement on the Hill, a collection of the stuff he was working on before he died. In 2007 there was New Moon, a compilation of 24 outtakes mostly recorded between 1994 and 1997. I interviewed archivist Larry Crane back then about putting together that release. A couple years later I interviewed Crane again about what he found in the archives since New Moon. He said there probably wasn’t enough unreleased stuff to release another album, but “There are a lot of interesting alternate and live versions of songs though. I could see doing ‘bonus disc’ versions of the proper albums as a possibility.”

Continue reading Remastered, expanded edition of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or coming in March

Elliott Smith – Between the Bars

MP3: Elliott Smith – “Between the Bars” from An Introduction to… Elliott Smith, out November 2 on KRS. Originally on Either/Or.

A new “best of” compilation is sure to disappoint longtime fans, excluding favorite songs, but this Elliott Smith collection looks like a pretty nice starting point for newbies, despite its obvious lightness on the Dreamworks era (XO, Figure 8).

I’m happy KRS was able to license “Waltz #2 (XO)” since it’s arguably his best song. But to use the early version of “Miss Misery” instead of the finished version from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack feels a little disrespectful. It was cool to include it on the collection of outtakes, New Moon, but Smith was such a perfectionist when it came to his songwriting that I can’t imagine he’d be pleased to see this clumsy, unfinished version canonized on a compilation like this.

Elliott Smith: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

Continue reading Elliott Smith – Between the Bars

Elliott Smith Remastered

Roman CandleMP3: Elliott Smith – “Last Call” from the remastered reissue of Roman Candle, due April 6 on Kill Rock Stars.

I was a little leery of the idea of anybody “cleaning up” Elliott Smith‘s debut album, but listening to this song has quashed my fears. It sounds fucking awesome. I just did an A-B test with the MP3 on my iPhone, and the new one sounds much better. We shouldn’t be surprised. The album remastering was overseen by Larry Crane (with Roger Seibel at SAE), who worked with Smith from 1996 to 1999, co-produced “Miss Misery,” and researched, assembled and mixed New Moon in 2007.

When KRS first announced that Roman Candle would be receiving the remastering treatment, I shot Crane a quick email with my concerns.

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Elliott Smith’s Roman Candle Remastered

Roman CandleOn April 6, 2010, Kill Rock Stars is reissuing Elliott Smith‘s debut album, Roman Candle, originally released in 1994 on Cavity Search. The album has been remastered by Larry Crane, who shared a recording studio with Smith, produced “Miss Misery,” and mastered New Moon in 2007.

Larry explains, “The intention that I had was to make the album more listenable. I felt that a lot of the guitar “squeaks” were jarring and very loud, and that many of the hard consonants and “S” sounds were jarring and scratchy sounding. I felt by reducing these noises that the music would become more inviting and the sound would serve the songs better. When I went to Roger Seibel’s SAE Mastering, he proceeded to equalize the tracks a small amount and to make the volume slightly louder. We never tried to make this CD as loud as current, over-limited trends, but just to match the volume of the rest of Elliott’s KRS catalog in a graceful way. Please note that none of this album is “remixed” from the master tapes – it is still composed of the mixes Elliott created himself.”

KRS also got the rights to From a Basement on the Hill, originally released in 2004 on Anti-. Not sure how they wrangled that deal, but now all of Elliott Smith’s indie releases will be on one label. To celebrate all of this news, KRS is giving away a previously unreleased song recorded at Jackpot Studio in 1997.

MP3: Elliott Smith – “Cecilia/Amanda” (previously unreleased)

Via sweet adeline.

Elliott Smith: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

Indie Label Roundtable

Over on NPR’s Monitor Mix Blog, Carrie Brownstein rounds up a bunch of people who run indie labels and gets them to talk about how the role of the record label has changed over the past decade. It’s a fascinating conversation that touches on everything from iTunes to filesharing to artist development to vinyl to Pitchfork to licensing… Here’s my favorite part:

Chris Swanson (Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian): Are many of you guys having luck making money on singles? Or is it primarily an artist-development tool?
Maggie Vail (Kill Rock Stars): Singles for us are always about development.
Portia Sabin (Kill Rock Stars): A weird thing for us is that, no matter what song off an album we give away as a free MP3, that song is always the most-purchased song off that album.
Robb Nansel (Saddle Creek): Same here, Portia.
Gerard Cosloy (Matador): Same thing happens to us.
Darius Van Arman (Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian): We have the exact same experience.
Mac McCaughan (Merge): That’s “the single” to people.
Robb Nansel (Saddle Creek): So we should just all give away all of our albums!
Carrie Brownstein (NPR): Problem solved!
Maggie Vail (Kill Rock Stars): We do; we can’t help it.

The funny thing is that we’re noticed that same trend even on our small scale with Glorious Noise Records. The songs we give away for free are consistently the ones that sell the most via iTunes and emusic. (Well, that was true anyway until Riviera‘s “Golden Lies” was used in an episode of a show on A&E. Since July, we sold over 60 copies of that song via iTunes alone, which is about ten times more than any other song we’ve released.)

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The Decemberists – Picaresque

The DecemberistsPicaresque (Kill Rock Stars)

What would we do without Colin Meloy? Ever the muse for songwriters and storytellers alike, Meloy carries his voice all over history, seamlessly adapting a new persona with each blissful track that passes. From the onset of Castaways and Cutouts, the entire Decemberists clan stood on a solitary plane in the current indie pop landscape, drawing unfair comparisons to a band far inferior; Her Majesty the Decemberists only furthered the remarkable distance between them and their peers. Picaresque, like any great collection of short stories, confronts a cadre of times and places and captures the sound of each accordingly. The puppeteer behind such extravagant genre, our beloved Meloy, comes away from Picaresque just peachy—he leads The Decemberists to victory, unveiling a stronger, more confident voice while in the process upping his considerable songwriting talents.

Each track is more decorated, giving the songs a genuinely detailed, vivid imagery—the ominous drudge that pounds the background of “From My Own True Love” when Meloy mentions his “rain-swept town,” conjuring a horizon filling with storm clouds, for example. It’s also important to note that while the band’s first two albums gained a sort of cult fandom and notoriety for its often deliberate quirkiness, Meloy has for the most part dropped that crutch. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” aside, cast away is the kitsch and idiosyncratic inflection that has prevented the group from reaching the type of audience they deserve. With a closer hand to the heart, Meloy has given this new collection a little more soul and feeling—exemplified in the blooming “The Sporting Life,” which is the bounciest little piece of adolescent outcastedness; and the melancholy of “The Bagman’s Gambit” alike. “The Engine Driver” (mp3) is the band’s most sentimental and fully-realized song to date—disguising himself as a lovelorn author trying to write someone out of his mind, Meloy pulls all the right strings. And then comes the ace—the addition of Petra Haden, who chirps her way behind Meloy in the song’s climactic finale—just one of a harmonious blend of backup vocals and swelling harmonies that carries the song from beautiful to angelic.

Much like their previous releases, Picaresque bogs down in the middle, falling into a slower pace. We could stand to see more of the bounce and strut of “July, July,” and Picaresque commits to a stronger backbone off the bat. After “The Sporting Life,” however, the band loses that light-footedness. “The Bagman’s Gambit” is a microcosm for the entire Decemberists catalogue—a plodding, dreary verse takes two minutes before breaking into a fever pitch. The surge of emotion that gets carried in the tide with the rebellious “No / You will not catch me” makes the wait through the verse well worth it.

Picaresque, despite its decidedly gray hue, stands out as the group’s best—an accomplishment, to say the least. The Decemberists have no need for reinvention—they’ve found a formula that allows for flexibility and fluidity without losing a consensual sound. They simply get better and better with time; in a time where the floodgates for creativity are wide open, and exposure for bands is as easy as bandwidth, there is still no one that sounds like this crew. Truly a “the whole is greater then the sum of the parts” scenario, this work displays a stunning cohesiveness throughout. More quixotic then quirky, Picaresque finds a band near (but not yet at) the top of their game. Despite the novelic character of their work, The Decemberists aren’t snooty or bookish—they’re entirely charming. And like the fledgling child athlete that narrates “The Sporting Life,” you can’t help but root for them to win.

You can download the video for “16 Military Wives” via BitTorrent. Read an article in Wired about how this came to be.

The Decemberists – Her Majesty the Decemberists

The DecemberistsHer Majesty the Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars)

Colin Meloy, with his lovely languid voice, his daunting vocabulary and his baffling knowledge of 19th-century European history, accounts for a considerable amount of the Decemberists’ allure. The Portland ensemble’s new album Her Majesty the Decemberists, a fitting successor to 2002’s Castaways and Cutouts, is rife with the front man’s less-than-rock-and-roll pet themes of soldiers, sailors and downtrodden proles. Reappearing too, on tracks like “Shanty for the Arethusa” and “Chimbley Sweep” (respectively, the band’s second pirate- and chimney sweep-themed songs on record) is the jaunty cadence that made the best Castaways tracks so compelling.

On the songs that work best, the Decemberists bring all of their unusual instrumentation – Wurlitzers and vibraphones, pedal steels and glockenspiels – to bear, and craft vibrant melodies and sailing crescendos. Too often, however, the band seems to use Meloy’s always-excellent vocals as an excuse to avoid fleshing out the songs, leaving promising tunes such as “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” and “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground” feeling… lite. Her Majesty is a literate and engaging work, though not all of its elements carry Meloy’s inventiveness and tenacity.

MP3s of “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” and “The Soldiering Life” via killrockstars.com.