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Elliott Smith: Either/Or

Album: Either/Or
Label: Kill Rock Stars

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Erstwhile Heatmiser member and prolific singer/songwriter Elliott Smith has now recorded three solo albums, and the brand-new Either/Or marks something of a thematic transition for him: Where the songs on his eponymous sophomore release were generally stark, guy-with-acoustic-guitar confessionals about drug abuse and darkness, there’s brightness and a pop feel to his new Either/Or. And without comparing it to its predecessors, let’s just say this: The album is incredibly goddamned good. Songs like “Alameda,” “Speed Trials,” “Ballad of Big Nothing,” and “Say Yes” are heart-breakingly melancholy, yet informed by a feel for classical-tinged pop a la The Beatles and, more recently, Jeremy Enigk. (And the two-minute “Between The Bars” is simply gorgeous beyond words.) Smith’s terrific acoustic arrangements and uncanny ability to wring hooks from sadness make these songs worthy of pop success, but the fact is, they’re probably too good to be played on the radio alongside that awful new Offspring single. It’s hard to describe what Smith does so well without playing the album; suffice it to say that fans of Lou Barlow’s softer side will be blown away.