Allow me to get something off my chest: this record is not “lo fi”. If you think this is “lo fi”, please listen to early Smog or early Sebadoh or early Ween or anything that actually qualifies as lo fi and then come back and listen to this. Smith doesn’t need your help. He’s a good songwriter. You don’t have to lie to people to get them to listen to his music. Ahem.
A more appropriate descriptor might be “minimalist” but even then that’s not appropriate because of the overdubs. Smith is a “bedroom” musician, sure, but he’s not the kind that hides his songs behind noise, like so many of his contemporaries. Just because he records songs most by himself and his vocal performances are rawer than most, doesn’t make him “lo fi”.
Dammit, I did it again. Sorry. Let’s try again:
This is a good set of songs from Smith. I haven’t heard his debut in a little while so I can’t tell you off the top of my head if it’s a better set. (It’s been a year plus.) But, as always, his songs are good – the melodies are always there.
I feel like I write the same thing about Smith’s lyrics every time I review his albums – if you found Smith in your teens, in your early 20s, or at any emotionally fragile time in your life, you probably connect to him deeply. If you didn’t, then you don’t have the same connection. This for me is the difference between those of us who think Smith is a good songwriter and those who think he’s an All Time Great.
As usual, my biggest problem with Smith is his arrangements: though they nearly always well thought-out, I just prefer my music – and especially music of this particular tenor – to be rawer. (I.e. more “lo fi.” Dammit, I did it again.) He’s very good at what he does, even at this early stage but I don’t love it, personally. I will say I find these early arrangements way more endearing than his later records, when he goes all Baroque Pop on occasion.
But I still would prefer a less arranged, rawer version of this record. (This might also have to do with him as a vocal performer, I guess.)
But it’s a good set of songs played well. I would prefer a different sound but this is who Elliott Smith was.