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New Moon

Elliott Smith

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Album Review

Before he died in 2003, Elliott Smith released five albums (plus the posthumous From a Basement on the Hill), but he had dozens and dozens of songs recorded, either alone on a four track or with friends in various studio settings, that had never seen the light of day. Kill Rock Stars — the label for which he made arguably two of his best records, 1995's Elliott Smith and 1997's Either/Or — with help from the late singer's archivist, Larry Crane, collected a handful of these pieces, added extensive and often personal liner notes, and made them available to the public under the title New Moon. Written and recorded between 1994 and 1997, the 24 tracks on New Moon showcase Smith at his most instinctive and natural, when he uses hardly more than his (double-tracked) voice and his guitar. Though some of the songs here, especially the earlier ones, can be quite simple, even raw at times, there's a sad, clean sweetness that comes through despite the occasional bit of tape hiss, of tinny chords. In fact, much was done by the album's producers to maintain the integrity of Smith's original tracks, remixing them only when absolutely necessary (the only song that took vocal and instrumental elements from two different sessions is "New Disaster," and is clearly marked as such). This means that New Moon embodies an unadulterated Smith, singing and playing songs how he wanted to, carefully layering his voice and adding the occasional harmony, the second guitar, the subtle drum tap — and with little of the full-band sound he moved into after he left KRS and went to a major label — but it doesn't mean that the pieces sound incomplete or unprofessional; almost all them could've been included on one of Smith's albums, and in fact many of them were near to making the cut. "Looking Over My Shoulder" has a great hook, catchy in that monotonously melodic kind of way Smith knew how to do best. "You're always coming over with all of your friends and all their opinions I don't want to know," he sings, a slight anger in his voice, while "All Cleaned Out" reveals a kind of pity for his subject. There's a depth of emotion in New Moon, more than pure sadness, seen in his cover of Big Star's "Thirteen," recorded live in DJ Rob Jones's basement and played back later on air, the near indignation of "Georgia, Georgia," the fast picking on "Almost Over." Even the rendition of "Miss Misery" included here, the song that propelled him into the spotlight, has a lightness that doesn't exist in the final product. Instead of that hauntingly sad refrain, that last plea, "Do you miss me, miss misery like you say you do?" Smith hints at a different ending. "'Cause it's all right, some enchanted night I'll be with you," he sings. There's distant hope for redemption, for resolution here, something that was not present in the later version. In fact, that's the overall feeling that New Moon gives, a sense of opportunity, of possibility, of life within the bleak reality. The album portrays a more stable Smith and promises something brilliant to come, full of words and chords that will touch thousands, alluding to the future and the past, but mostly, in its own quiet way, screaming to show off the immense talents of one man and his songs.

Biography

Born: 06 August 1969 in Omaha, NE

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

The celebrated folk-punk singer/songwriter Elliott Smith rose from indie obscurity to mainstream success in 1997 on the strength of "Miss Misery," his Academy Award-nominated song from the film Good Will Hunting. A native of Portland, OR, Smith began writing and recording his first songs at age 14, later becoming a fixture of the city's thriving music scene. As a member of the band Heatmiser, he debuted in 1993 with the LP Dead Air, issuing his first solo effort Roman Candle on the tiny Cavity Search...
Full Bio