• Music We Love: Elliott Smith's "Either/Or"

    Feel that chill in the air? It's called Autumn. Do you know what you do when it gets colder out? You put on sad music. It's just what you do. Or, at least, what I do. When I'm feeling melancholy and especially Richie Tenenbaum-esque, I'll put on Elliott Smith. If you've never heard Elliott Smith, then you're probably doing sadness wrong, just saying. Actually you're just doing music wrong.

    Elliott Smith was a Portland-based singer-songwriter. Now, I have a pretty strict "no contemporary dudes with acoustic guitars" policy in my life (sorry, Jack Johnsons of the world) but Smith's music gets a major pass. His multi-tracked songs are complex, layering acoustics and vocals to make haunting melodies punctuated by his dark lyricism. Elliott Smith has such a distinctive style of singing as well. It's this light and whispery voice that is still so haunting. After a tortured life of depression, Smith died an untimely and oddly mysterious death at age 34. His music still lives on and on and on. 

    It's hard to pick an Elliott Smith album that's my favorite, because I love them all so much, but his third studio album, Either/Or, is special to me. Either/Or was released right before Elliot Smith performed "Miss Misery" at the Oscars, a song he contributed to the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting. After that, Smith was on to bigger record labels that refined his sound in studios, so not to get all "his old stuff was better" but this is sort of the last truly lo-fi release Smith did, and it's the gritty nature of "Either/Or" that makes me love it so much.


    "Ballad of Big Nothing" is so classically "pop" for Smith, with its strumming guitars and catchy choral hook. But the passive-aggressive lyrics of this ballad's chorus give it a much moodier tone than the average pop song vibe it seems to spit out. I think this was my Myspace song for more than a month, which is saying a lot 'cause I changed that baby on the daily. Luv u, Smith.

     

    Ah, this song is so beautiful I could scream. Actually all the songs on this album are beautiful so I guess I'm doing a lot of internal screaming right now. Smith sings so softly, with each layered vocal track barely reaching louder than a whisper, and it only makes the delivery of these cryptically poetic lyrics more heart-breaking. Something about the line "in the cathedral with the glass stained black" alone has always given me chills. ALL OF IT gives me chills. Ooooh.


    This is a seriously underrated Elliott Smith track. I just love the electric guitar work on this, especially that solo. It's like the whole album is this quiet, bubbling, anger and Smith sort of explodes in his own brooding way on this track at the end of the album. "IT'S MY LIEEEE"


    Probably one of my favorite lyrics of Smith's: "You beat it in me, that part of you / But I'm going to split us back in two." Aaah?! Every line of this song is a wound, though I guess this entire album is a wound. A gorgeously, wispily, well-written diary of darkness. R.I.P. Elliott Smith. Hazel

    Shop Either/Or