Review Summary: A relatively underrated Lo-fi classic.
Let me start with a quote by Kill Rock Stars' founder Slim Moon on the impact Roman Candle made on him;
“In 1994, I had been asked to be on this five-person solo-act tour called Pop Chord with Tammy Watson, Carrie Akre, Sean Croghan and Elliott Smith. The first night at the "Crocodile" in Seattle, I didn't pay too much attention and people talked all thru Elliott's set. Sean Croghan got up next and said "All of you people who just talked through Elliott's set are bummed because you just missed something very very special." The next night of the tour, at "The Bottom of the Hill" in San Francisco, I listened very closely to Elliott's set, and it was basically one of those life-changing moments. Instead of watching the rest of the performers, I went out to the tour van and popped Roman Candle into the player, and listened to it on endless repeat for the rest of the evening and beyond. It completely blew my mind. I have never heard music as heartwrenchingly, gut-checkingly honest, intimate, and wise - before or since.”
...So no wonder why Kill Rock Stars became Smith's next label, which released the two following records, in my opinion his best ones. Anyway, the nine songs on Roman Candle were recorded in a basement by him alone without any intention to release them. That explains why it is by far his most personal album in terms of lyrics, but also the least accessible one (especially for the wider audience). What eventually became the album were his "latest" home-made demos put together by the tiny Portland-based label Cavity Search Records.
Smith's splendid sense of melody and his unique way of fingerpicking are well present here. Take for example the first twenty seconds of "Condor Ave.", a song that he allegedly wrote at the age of 17. Or the closing instrumental, that stands out from his catalogue as something different. It actually sounds like it could be from an old motion picture soundtrack. The opening title-track may be the angriest acoustic song I've ever heard, but at the same time like the rest of the album it manages to be a pleasant listen. All in all, given the circumstances it's a five-star record.
I wanted her to tell me that she would never wake me
I'm lying here waiting for sleep to overtake me
So it's a bit short, but I decided to left it at that. I will edit it and add a pargraph when the remastered version of it is released (in April). It's apparently supposed to reduce the guitar squeaks and the extremely raw sound of the album... I'm looking forward to it, but not sure if it will actually sound better.