Review Summary: I'm all over it.
Elliott Smith has been a relatively recent musical discovery for myself. I remember looking through a copy of NME in my first year at university sat in a friend's room. It featured a special on him and the guy sat at his desk was adamant that I had to listen to this album in particular. Cue the best tip i've ever had. I mean this guy's music has single handedly turned me on to so many other artists it's crazy. He's also had one of the most messed up lives of any musicians I've come across, but, what Smith did fantastically was turn all of this into some of the most impressive stripped down acoustic music to have been recorded.
The best thing about Either/Or. for me, is the whole toned down production side of his music. There's an intimacy there which works perfectly with his whispery voice and acoustic guitar being reinforced, not by any showy solos or thumping bass drum, but by restrained musicians who allow Smith's lyrics and vocal delivery to be at the forefront of everything that you're hearing. It's either a fantastic example of democracy in music or Smith was a massive musical facist. He'd later go on to add more of a "big band" element to his music but I have always thought that, had he used more electric instruments on this album, it would have translated poorly.
Everything else aside, Elliott Smith could play the crap out of the guitar. Sure, most of the album's pretty simple progressions but I defy the "playing guitar is my party trick" kinda guys to pick up the guitar and play Angeles first time. Being able to finger pick that song alone is impressive, singing and playing? Forget about it. Then, two tracks later, you get "2:45" which is one of the simplest songs ever commited to a fretboard. If Smith could have been as restrained with the booze and drugs then his life could have been a totally different story.
If anyone ever asks me where to start with ES, I always say this is the place. Either/Or is the jewel in the crown in what is one of the most solid folk/acoustic discographies in music. Elliott finds a way to tie in his almost breakable voice, immense song writing talent and all the *** which preceded this album into something which has defined his career. It's just one of those that needs to be in a CD collection, simple as.