Back in the late ‘90s, when beloved singer-songwriter Elliott Smith was working on the soundtrack to “Good Will Hunting,” he visited Sunset Sound studios with Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty. The two laid down a cappella tracks that Doughty said were intended for something hip-hop and electronic-inspired. The tapes then went missing and the collaboration never materialized.
Until now. Today Doughty released the newly found and finished recordings under his beat-centric UUL alias, and they put Smith’s tender whispers in a radical new context, to say the least.
The tracks can be described only as electronic dance music. One of the tunes, “The Record,” features a Smith melody and lyrics that would eventually resurface in the song “Bottle Up and Explode!” But his vocals are digitally chopped and placed atop distorted drum loops and bouncy techno synths. "Dogs” (note: explicit language) loops a single syllable of Smith’s into an upbeat track akin to the big-beat electronica popular at the time he recorded the vocal, and “Burn” serrates bits and pieces of his melodies into a deep house club cut.
The new context is certainly jarring for those used to Smith’s voice in either his hyper-intimate acoustic recordings or even his later, higher-gloss pop productions. But if nothing else, it’s proof that he was open to experimenting with novel styles and equipment (like a binaural head microphone) even in his singer-songwriter heyday.
Doughty said he finally found the a cappella tape last November, and that these newly finished recordings are accurate representations of what he and Smith were up to at the time. “To be totally clear -- this kind of track is exactly what he and I intended to make!” Doughty wrote.
If you’ve ever lamented your inability to play Elliott Smith songs during your dance-club DJ sets, now you can.