It's difficult to imagine a death that has resonated deeper in the indierock community than Elliott Smith's apparent suicide. Smith possessed a voice of hopeful desperation, and though he constantly denied connections between his art and life, suicide somehow seemed both an unsurprising end for his characters and a shocking reality for an artist who lined narratives of the destitute with such harmonious music.
The title of Smith's upcoming posthumous release, From a Basement on the Hill (out October 19), captures the songwriter's essence--the revered artist trapped in his own private prison. On From a Basement on the Hill, Smith's introspective lyrics leave a trail that--intentionally or not--reveals an artist who is aware of his fate. Per usual though, Smith has couched these songs with whimsical instrumentation, from chirping crickets to the swampy croaks of a frog-filled pond. Even the saddest of songs soars in the heavily orchestrated choruses, masking lines like "gimme one reason not to do it" with overwhelming radiance.
One year after his death, Smith's friend and neighbor, Earlimart songwriter/producer Aaron Espinoza, offers a poignant complement to Smith's final release. The groundwork for this album was laid with 2003's Everyone Down Here, which found Espinoza's vocal harmonies hovering over lush indie pop soundscapes. The disc drew fans of similar-sounding acts such as Smith and Grandaddy as well as reinforcing the L.A. band's evolution from its noisier rock beginnings.
Like the best Elliott Smith records, Earlimart's latest Treble & Tremble is ultimately haunting, as Espinoza attempts to give voice to the pain created by Smith's death. The heavy-heartedness is omnipresent on Treble, and yet there's also the feeling that the band is making peace with Smith's death on some level.
In the end, the new works of Elliott Smith and Earlimart are plainly intertwined. Separately, the two discs stand as gorgeous offerings that showcase some of the best work ever done by either act. Taken together, however, they're an intimate dialogue--a powerful synchronicity made all the more poignant by the knowledge that Smith will never hear the effect his death had on a friend. To know that these two messages will never connect is nothing short of heartbreaking.