Elliott Smith – Rares, Singles & Covers

Hey, if this looks like it’s walking funny, that’s because it’s got boot legs, and yes, this is a lengthy compilation of often barrel-scraping outtakes. But we’re fans, damnit, and we want this stuff! 32 gosh darned tracks! So what do we get for our convenience?
Well, in short: a couple great songs that later turned up on New Moon, a couple singles presented in their released form, a couple instrumentals, a bunch of usually pretty good outtakes, and lots of early versions of songs, with weight given to the singles, but there’s lots of other stuff here too. Releases get far more barrel-scrapey than this.
In long:
1. The beautiful “Angel In The Snow” – it’s great! And also already on “New Moon!”
2. A one-minute acoustic version of “Baby Britain.” Sounds like a guy jammin’ in the name of the acoustic sads.
3. A “remix” of “Baby Britain” that sounds just like the album version. This one’s never been my favourite ES single – not memorable enough, and the jingle-jangle vibe has never made me feel too jingly or jangle.
4. A cover of The Beatles’ “Because.” That’s nice, but since it sounds just like The Beatles’ version, I’m not sure why we need Elliott Smith to remind us that the world is round, among other revelations.
5. “Between The Bars.” Just like it always is. I guess it was a “single,” but I don’t think that merits okay okay I’ll let it go. Always nice to hear this ol’ ode to being a sad alcoholic!
6. A demo of “Bottle Up and Explode” that reminds one that at one point it had synth keyboards only, and the same melody. Great melody – but not the best lyrics ever – always bothered me the way he pauses between syllables in “explode” like nobody ever would. Like most songs, better with guitar and drums, but still a neat listen.
7. A cover of “Concrete Jungle” by Mob Barley, on acoustic guitar! Pretty good, but quite low quality.
8. A mediocre outtake called “The Enemy Is You.” Meh.
9. An acoustic demo of “Everything’s Okay” that’s pretty nice, but everyone writing sad songs needs to stop mentioning sad clowns as a symbol of pathos because it makes me snicker EVERY TIME.
10. The rightfully long lost title track of “Figure 8,” which is just over a minute long and mostly features noodling and explaining the shape of a Figure 8 and some basic math. Sample lyric: “Figure 8 is 2 times 4 / 4 times 4 is two times 8” – sung all-seriously.
11. An acoustic version of the great “Happiness” from Figure 8. Nothing snarky to say about this one! She’s a keeper.
12. A chugging rock outtake called “How To Take A Fall.” 6/10.
13. The decent “I Can’t Answer You Anymore.” 6/10.
14. A schmaltzy piano take of “I Didn’t Understand.” I “didn’t understand” why this is here! …I’ll show myself out.
15. An untitled instrumental. Boy howdy. I “didn’t understand” why thi
16. The acoustic “Let’s Get Lost,” which annoys me for some reason.
17. The Son Of Sam B-Side “A Living Will,” which is good if you like hearing Elliott sounding really musically upbeat (kinda like the Eels in execution).
18. An acoustic version of big single “Miss Misery” that reminds me that I have always thought it a bit too direct (but still really good).
19. A piano version of big single “Miss Misery” that doesn’t really yank my crank.
20. “No Confidence Man,” which is pretty great, and I don’t even need to fucking tell you why.
21. Better-than-the-last instrumental “Our Thing.” Golly, does his voice and cadence ever work well with just an acoustic geezer.
22. A lo-fi version of New Moon’s great “See You Later.”
23. A neat but overlong and overly lo-fi collaboration called “Shytown.”
24. The brief, pissed-off druggy B-Side “Some Song,” from way back in the day. The most Smashing Pumpkins the Elliott Smiths ever got!
25. The catchy rockabilly “Splitsville.” This one’s a bemused old dusty gem, though what’s with the lengthy boring outro? But other than that, the most Ramones the Elliott Smiths ever got!
26. and 27. Two nearly identical versions of the just decent outtake “Stickman.” A bit too direct on the ol’ whiny self-loathing, and it’s too slow and hookless, and two versions together aren’t the greatest idea for a fun way to spend ten minutes.
28. The fantastic (but available on New Moon) cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen.”
29. An acoustic “Trouble” – hey, pretty nice.
30. An acoustic demo of “Twilight” from FABOTH, which never impressed me to begin with – not enough fucking happens, guy! And the melody is too relationship-emo, which is the wrong kind of whining for mine ears.
31. “Happiness.” Yes, that was a nice song, but everyone who knows Elliott knows it. Somehow I have a version of it without the noodling at the end, but I’m not sure where I got it. But hey, still nice!
32. An acoustic version of the single “Son Of Sam.” Unlike many of his songs, this one actually worked much better with the band instead of just acoustic, because the band carries the main hook.
So there’s a lot! But I’d give it a definite go. I did, and look where it got me!

…I’m so lonely.

8 / 10

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Elliott Smith – New Moon

Well, captain funnyvoice’s (sorry, sorry Captain Funnyvoice) second posthumous album is way better than his first! Probably (definitely) because it consists of twenty-four (!) outtakes from the sessions for his two best albums, Elliott Smith and Either/Or (I was a little bit wrong, years ago). This was back in the good ol’ days, when the songs were mostly acoustic (or at least quiet) and relied on being freakishly well-written and kittenish.
ES, especially with his stringy black bangs and prematurely weathered face and arm tattoos and tragicomic suicide was Original Emo, but his music doesn’t follow any of the negative things associated with that genre, aside from being unrelentingly sad. I’m not sure how many of these songs stayed in the vault for so long, it’s hard to find good reasons to want to do anything but buy the poor guy a drink and hear his tales.
This is a solid, solid release, more androgynous folk than rock music, and to my great delight it contains one genuine sticky earworm! That would be “Whatever (Folk Song In C),” which gets pretty direct about its drugs and sadness: “Come here alone and they leave in twos / Except for you and me who just came to use / If you’re all done like you said you’d be / What’re you doing hanging out with me?” over, well, some nice folk that’s presumably in C. It’s all very stark and pretty, and it’s about Elliott, but at least he got some nice music out of it. “Big Decision” is great too! And “Angel In The Snow” is great too! In fact, the only bad song is the would-be title track to the latter progenitor album. We’re’d!

8 / 10

Elliott Smith – From A Basement On The Hill

The dead sure do like to leave behind reams of mostly-finished songs, don’t they? Nobody ever offs themselves right after releasing an exhaustive double album.
Also, am I the only one who thought the Before Sunrise was complete garbage? An hour and a half of two people – very good looking people, I’ll grant you that – wandering around Vienna having pseudo-intellectual conversations and having run-ins with stereotypical European things. Why do I want to watch two backpackers talking about how they believe in reincarnation, and why in the thousand hells does it have a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes? I hate those people.
This is the ol’ posthumous collection of half-finished songs that others tried to finish, so there’s a lot of problems here. like songs where there’s unnecessary electric guitar and/or strings piled over four minutes of basic chord changes, or songs that haven’t got their mood figured out properly, or songs where nothing much happens. But this is still Elliott Smith and you’d better recognize. The youngins will go crazy for “A Fond Farewell” and “A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity,” but the real hero here is “King’s Crossing” (once you get past the unnecessarily long intro), a terrifyingly stark three-minute suicide threat. You’d have to be a bit dead inside not to feel choked up by a guy who killed himself contemplated the same thing, in song. Heavy stuff, man. Still, it’s no “Elliott Smith” the album (though it’s mostly Elliott Smith the person).
Also, which hill, guy?

7 / 10

Elliott Smith – Figure 8

I think, generally speaking, I took psychology to figure out what was wrong with me, and stayed in it to figure out what’s wrong with people. It seems like the second part is actually fairly simple – a bunch of advanced software running on outdated hardware manifesting itself as a bunch of basic biases – fundamental attribution error, baseline neglect, many others – that are the cause of most of this sorrow. And this: we are not happiness machines, but survival and reproduction machines. All that is elementary to people who know me, but can never use enough repeating. I don’t think it needs to be any deeper.
But me? I still have little idea, aside from the note being a happiness machine. I have, of course, the same biases, but those do more to explain what I’m a disgusting cockbag, not why I’m such a miserable one. Yet still, at age 28 I still dedicate entire days to being miserable, to staving off drinking and depression. And now that I’m unemployed, I’m free to do so without any outside interference messing up my thought patterns! It also makes me a worthless person. But never mind that.
So indulge me in a little Waking Life-esque pseudo-intellectual philosophy: Am I a good person? First we should figure out what is meant by “good.” But first, a few verses about Stalin’s top henchman Molotov, to the tune of “Yesterday”:

MOLOTOV, oh Vyacheslav Molotov
A more interesting guy than Malenkov
Oh Vyacheslav Molotov

Suddenly
In 1952 to ’53
Stalin wanted a new deputy
Nearly turned Molotov in
To the NKVD

But of all the politicians in his day
When Stalin died
The one who cried
Was Molotov

So, I’m a utilitarian, so “good” to most of my purposes (because who gives a shit about meaning well, and I’m not sure how well I mean on a quotidian basis) means “makes the world a better for place for having been in it.” And, well, I’m a straight while guy that grew up and lives in North America. Unless I do something pretty decent with my life then I am prancing around wearing clothes made of suffering and eating food made of suffering, consuming resources better spent on just about charity. But instead I go on eating, wearing, and consuming. So the only good reason not to plan a graceful exit is to plan on doing something good, at some point. And I have always planned on it, but with every day that I can barely leave my bed out of shame and guilt about what an asshole I am my faith in my ability to follow through on my plans gets a bit lessened. I’m getting older and my friends don’t need friends as much as they used to, and someday maybe they won’t need them at all. I want to help everyone, but instead I spend my time paralyzed by my own inability to help myself. It’s pretty funny.
Elliott Smith has some of the feels that I do, so I get a pretty decent amount of mileage from this album on that count alone, and another decent amount from the fact that he’s a pretty solid songwriter and his voice is a positive to listen to.
I mean really, his vox is all ethereal and soft-yet-steady, but he never falls into Bright Eyes-like over-emoting, he just hits his notes and lets the lyrics and music do the communicating. And the music is generally a positive for me – a lot of late-90s slash early oughts alt-rock, with a few too many dramatic strings, but nothing “Disarm”ing (even though they’re about more dramatic things). Riffs are generally on guitar, like god intended, with a few acoustic songs to really bring you back. It’s definitely a bit dated, but not to any serious deleterious effects.
So, generally Elliott’s a wiz at writing sad alt-rock and playing sad acoustic songs. When he branches out he gets out of his league. But “Son Of Sam” and “Junk Bond Trader” and “Happiness” are gsreat songs in generally typical ways, while “Somebody That I Used To Know” and “Easy Way Out” really take things down while keeping up the feels. And the feels are pretty intense, although they get moreso when you know that this is the last album he released before killing himself by stabbing himself in the heart (twice!).
Oh, things are a bit cringe at rare occasions (“Everything Reminds Me Of Her” being an acoustic song says it all), and he’s not a fantastic writer of filler tracks, and he’s not a martyr to anybody but himself, but if you don’t like this then you’re probably a really happy person or something, and I’ll see you next time I’m drunk.

8 / 10

Elliott Smith – Division Day

Two songs only! The bouncy piano-driven “Division Day” that sounds kinda like something from a silly musical but manages to be a good time anyway, mostly because of the ultra-catchy chorus, and the boring “No Name #6” that has only one real point of interest, and that’s the annoying vocal chirps during the verses.  Otherwise it’s just your basic acoustic non-melody.  And because this EP is so short, let me tell you about a dream I had to pass the time:

I just had a dream that took the quickest turn for the brutal I’ve ever seen.  I was in Guelph.  Evan made some kind of comment about classes started Monday and he didn’t like it (last night was a Saturday far from classes).  I was outside telling my girlfriend that she had to leave Saturday night because I had class Monday and she launched into a monologue on how what I really wanted was whore training and for her not to be a person to me, entirely yelled.  She was down on a street while I was on a ledge with a wall and a railing, very similar to standing at the side of a stairway.

Then all of a sudden we were in a large auditorium still with the lower area and myself still on a ledge looking at them, but now it was a sqaure of maybe 1000 people in raised seating, just as her yelling reached its end.  Everyone wore black suits. Then someone made a comment (it was topical to what she had just said but now I can’t remember) about comparing a jew to a swan, adding that “all jewish women are swans.”  Then someone said “yeah, jews aren’t people” and then the dream got fucked up.  Whoever made the swans comment had a ball of fire erupt on the seat next to him, and he fell into it and was swallowed up.  The flame quickly then disappeared.  The crowd silenced.   Then it happened to another.  Then another. Somehow I knew that a) it was terrorism and b) all the jews were to be killed and c) the only reason i wasn’t dead yet was because i had recently changed seats.  Instead of being anything else though, the crowd starting chanting supportively of the death and fear.  So I started running around the balcony over the auditorium with balls of flames popping out of the ground near me but never quite catching me and 1) i knew i was the only one left 2) the chant had turned into “Bob Cage! Quebec!” which I’m sure had meaning in the dream (I do remember someone yelling “sent them back to quebec!” as i ran) (and bob cage was some dream politician) with the “bob cage” being slurred almost to the point of unrecognizability as if it were slowed down, the ‘a’ being drawn out and the g like the second g in ‘garage’ while ‘quebec’ was said afterwards in a baritoney monotone.  I ran, trying to get to an open window that was across from where I’d originally stood.  I’m not sure if I made it or not, everything went white, but my inner monologue said I was hiding under a chair.  Which is a pretty silly way to end what was such a morbid dream.

fin.

5/10

Elliott Smith – XO

You’ve heard of Napster and Friendster – so how about Trendster?  The program where you can comingle with other members of your pathetic sub-culture of choice!

Speaking of which, Elliot Smith’s BACK – from the grave! with a new album of all-new material played with his ghostly fingers and released by his ghostly new major-label, Dreamworks. Good for him!  He’s got a long way to go before he’s Tupac, though.  Tupac?  More like two-Pakis, because that’s what he really was under those thug clothes.  But I bet he hid it pretty well with that negro suit of his, no?  I’m impressed every time I jerk off to his picture.

Ding ding ding!  Elliot’s back, and speaking of just saying offensive things for fun, he sold out with his new label and I hope he DIES within a few years.

Okay, fine, he didn’t really sell out, except in the sense that he wanted more money to do more with his songs.  And guess what?  it’s generally a good thing.  So that’s the one new thing you’ll notice here:  No more simple acoustic guitar and vocals songs anymore (except one).  From that 1:30 point in “Sweet Adeline” when the drums come crashing in you’re set for an album filled with songs led by that ol’ acoustic six string, but filled out with Beach Boys-y choirs, a couple horn arrangements, pianos, organs, drums, whathaveyou.  It’s more “lush” and “arranged” now, you could say.  You can say whatever you like, in fact, but the extra instruments greatly help most of the songs (“Waltz #2” being the best example of this), and helping this out, this is probably Elly’s best collection of snogs yet.  There are more hooks!  Hooks on nearly every song!  ElSee usually doesn’t do that.

He also has more genre-playin’.  “Baby Britain” is pure pop, there are waltzes, a couple angst-a-thons…but a nice, angel-voiced Elliot-y angst-a-thon.  His voice makes everything more tolerable, and it’s here in full force.

So sure, there are songs that don’t work at all with his newfound love of instrumentation, and a couple that are just generally bad (“Bled White” – what is this?), but the pros far outweigh the cons.  It’s almost a low 9, but I’m not feeling generous, because I’m getting tired of reviewing Elliot Smith and Death Cab For Cutie.  Also because it’s 3:00 and it’s looking like I’m not even going to leave my house until this evening, and that’s kinda sad.  XO good.  One time Damon Albarn gave me his autograph and it included “XO” and “with love”.  What do you think he meant by that?

8/10

Elliott Smith – Either/Or

You know what bothers me?

Not gonna answer?  Okay, then.  Just because I asked you a question doesn’t mean you have to be all snobby and silent.  Geez.  It’s when people say that anyone who isn’t a musician shouldn’t criticize music.  Why does the ability to play impact the abiltiy to critique and have an opinion? Just because I don’t know how to play guitar doesn’t mean I can’t recognize when I don’t like something.  It’s ridiculous and I feel defensive and etc. etc.

I say that because I know Elliot Smith is a cult hero and all that and he’s not attractive and that means his fans are genuine and none of that makes Either/Or a good album, even from the perspective of someone who should hypothetically be awestruck by the mere fact that he can strum hookless in well over half of these songs.  The others are good, like “Between The Bars”, which was popularized in the movie Goodwill Hunting that I hate because it’s the worst example of the cutesy little “the title could mean something interesting, but no, it’s just the name of the main character – gotcha” game that moviemakers play, the uses-electric-guitar-and-well “Cupid’s Trick” and the catchy-vocal-melodied closer “Say Yes” try to salvage the album but mostly it’s those hookless strummers like “Punch And Judy”, “No Name No. 5” and “Alameda” that dominate and leave you feeling vanilla about the whole thing.  And you’re going to feel somewhat vanilla about any Elliot Smith album when it’s done already, because too much Elliot Smith leaves you feeling vanilla anyway, so this one really really makes you vanilla.  And somewhat bored after the horribly titled “Cupid’s Trick”.  Better luck next time, L. Yot!  I’ll be over here criticising.

Oh, also, the main acoustic riff to “Between The Bars” is from a Stan Rogers song I can’t quite place the name of.  Look for it when I review that Canadian folkie at some point in the future – or just buy his entire catalogue, because he’s a good’un.

6/10