This week, former Soul Coughing lead singer and longtime solo artist Mike Doughty released three previously unheard Elliott Smith tracks, remixed into EDM songs.
“In 1998, Elliott recorded some a-cappella vocals for me, specifically to sample and slice-and-dice over beats,” Doughty explained on his SoundCloud page. “They sat on a cassette for 16 years. I just dug it out and completed our collaboration. To be totally clear—this kind of track is exactly what he and I intended to make.”
It’s impossible to verify that the resulting mixes are what Smith intended, of course—it’s doubtful that whatever software Doughty used to create the new tracks was even available 16 years ago, nevermind the fact that Smith had no way of knowing how the musical landscape would evolve. But what is clear is that these songs are unlike anything Smith himself released before his tragic death in October of 2003, and now, here we have it: One of the most intimate, melancholy, and revered singer-songwriters of our generation remixed into three quick-paced bangers intended for the dancefloor.
Having just watched the Grammys a few days ago, it’s hard to be surprised at developments such as these. We are living through an era of pop music that relies heavily on the “throw disparate elements in a blender” formula and chaotic attempts at overstimulation masked as entertainment. Of course Madonna is going to show up swinging a cane around while Macklemore performs “Same Love” and Queen Latifah oversees 33 simultaneous weddings. Of course Bruno Mars is going to be joined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers at this weekend’s Super Bowl. And of course Elliott Smith is getting the EDM treatment by the former lead singer of Soul Coughing.
So where does that leave us? On the plus side, we get the chance to hear three fragments pulled from Elliott Smith’s mind right around the time that he was recording “Miss Misery” for the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. In fact, traces of the song “Bottle Up and Explode!” can be heard in the first remixed song, “The Record”; it’s a similarity Doughty himself pointed out when recounting this period in the book Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing.
But the new mixes also raise some interesting questions. We’ll never know if these resulting mixes are what Smith intended or wanted to have happen, but do they honor his legacy? Will fans be able to stomach having his notoriously tender and vulnerable voice “sliced and diced over beats,” as Doughty put it? Or is this just a tiny window into a direction Smith himself might have gone someday, had he been alive to witness electronic music’s increasing popularity and artistic evolution?
Listen to the tracks right here—and compare “The Record” with “Bottle Up and Explode!” below.