I first listened to this album in some art museum in London. I didn't get it. No one ever mentioned Elliott Smith to me in person before I listened to it; I simply happened upon it on the internet, and albums heralded as "classic" always catch my eye. Most of the time, I'm convinced this happens for the wrong reasons. I think it's an obsession more than anything, an addiction to the massively arbitrary labeling of a work of art as great, generational, and seminal. I listened for a minute or two and, well, I remember noticing only the surprisingly wispy drums. That was it. I turned it off. But sometimes preliminarily sudden disappointment is the mark of an uncomfortable and aching genesis.
Another thing I'm convinced of is that the feeling of "oneness" that Eastern religions attribute to a common link among man is really a pathological tickling of some anthropomorphic tendency we all have, deep down, to feel swept away by something we feel to be amazing, and we lose ourselves. I probably realized this before I listened to Either/Or by Elliott Smith for the first time. The thing that I'll never understand, though, is how certain works of art, sometimes dressed in a costume of vibrations in the air emanating from a papery guitar and excruciatingly wistful voice, set off a sensory bomb in our minds, and our bodies, and give us a spiritual binge on the world around us.
When I arrived back at Either/Or with a slightly different approach, I did so with that infantile curiosity that urges a person to reexamine and rethink, and re-approach in a manner as physical as it is mental. Something about those drums, maybe. Or that sad, harrowing voice, scratching the black chalkboard behind the wall of my ears. I don't really know. But I listened again. And this time, I listened through the entire thing. And it was done. I had managed to click a dark, sepia film over my eyes and ears, and I saw the music in a way I've never seen or heard anything else. I was imbibed with the fury of a knockout punch, weighed down by the force of a million tons, held in the cavernous grasp of the bottom of the ocean. And once it was over I was let go very gently, and allowed to float back to the surface. But only after.
Every time I listen, I sail through Speed Trials with that same curiosity, with a feeling that I'll never get any of my questions answered regarding the late Elliott Smith. And by the end, I feel like I just get it. This album is not one to approach with technical, or even musical, expectations. Let it twist you up and break you into one thousand pieces, only to be put back together.