Longstanding fans of the late Elliott Smith won’t need any reminder that Heaven Adores You, the soundtrack to Nikolas Dylan Rossi’s 2014 documentary of the same name, has hit the shelves early this month—they’ve been waiting almost two years for it. I daresay, however, that this is a soundtrack worth waiting for.
The 20-track grab bag maps out the career of the man dubbed “the patron saint of indie rock” with delicacy, charting his pre-college days on tracks like “I Love My Room”, jams with college buddy Neil Gust and the music they produced with Heatmiser, right through to Smith’s undeniable success as a solo artist. As Heaven Adores You was the first documentary to be granted permission to use Smith’s music (Gil Reyes’ 2009 effort, Searching for Elliott Smith, was not so lucky), one would expect nothing less than a collection which showcases the wealth of the Omaha native’s talents whilst also offering previously unreleased treasures.
On these expectations, the soundtrack certainly delivers. I find myself at something of a loss as to how I should go about offering an appraisal of this album. As we’re dealing with a soundtrack here, transitions between songs are, out of necessity, placed as to where they relate to the film rather than placed for artistic cohesion. It seems somewhat remiss for Smith’s music to be laid out as it is here; the mellow, fluid trajectory of Either/Or and his other studio albums is lost. No one is really to blame for this, but considering that that unity was a striking feature of Smith’s previous work, it is worth noting that this release makes little attempt to follow suit.
What makes it certainly worth purchasing, however, is how apt it seems it is at releasing demo tracks and rarities of such a titan of lo-fi as Smith. The intimacy of Smith’s vocal style comes to the fore here more than it ever has before. Indeed, the power of his music has always been an honest kind of melancholia that lends itself very nicely to the pristine state of “Don’t Call Me Billy”, “The Last Hour”, and the other early versions found on this record.
The live tracks are not to be underestimated, either. “Miss Misery”, as performed on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and “Say Yes” live at Yo Yo Festival, are gems of the late ‘90s that exemplify the raw emotion that characterised Smith’s solo career. It’s worth noting that there’s an absence of how the songs sound on the artist’s studio albums. Whilst there are a few exceptions, those who have not previously familiarised themselves with Smith’s music may benefit from doing so before diving into the rarities found here. That isn’t to say that Heaven Adores You fails to provide a portrait of Smith’s diverse capabilites as a musician, it just feels a little unfair to go into this album without understanding the value of the unreleased material that it provides.
So fans of Smith, rejoice. Heaven Adores You is finally here. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into, and if you’re willing to accept that this offering is, necessarily, a stylistically volatile soundtrack and not one of the well-crafted studio albums Smith gave us during his lifetime, then you’re in for a real treat.