Say Yes to Expanded Elliott Smith “Either/ Or” Reissue

Elliott Smith
Either/ Or: Expanded Edition
(Kill Rock Stars)
Release date: 3/10/17

Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not.

For some, Smith is the singer and songwriter who contributed a handful of heart-rending songs to the soundtrack of the film “Good Will Hunting,” including the Oscar-nominated number “Miss Misery.” For others, he remains a cult-figure, known equally for his delicate artistry and his sudden death in 2003. Smith lived his whole life between such dichotomies.

Now to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his best-selling album, Kill Rock Stars is again shining the spotlight on the work of such a tortured and talented figure. “Either/ Or,” Smith’s third solo release, has been repackaged by the label into a new expanded edition featuring a collection of previously unreleased rarities and live tracks, as well as a remastered version of the original album.

For fans, this news is a welcome reinvigoration and reason to revisit Smith’s work all over again. But newcomers to the artist’s discography should rejoice too. For whether you’ve listened to “Either/ Or” a million times or not even once, the release is worth a closer look.

The original version of “Either/ Or” was released at a pivotal time in Smith’s career. Recorded while he was still a member of the alternative rock band Heatmiser, the record would also be Smith’s last release before being signed to the Dreamworks label. Thus, the sound captured on “Either/ Or” could best be encapsulated as resembling a bridge between his earlier lo-fi acoustic recordings and the more ornate orchestrations of his later releases.

Tasked with remastering a work that straddles two different worlds, recording engineer and Smith friend Larry Crane, who also helped produce the posthumous Smith compilation “New Moon” in 2007, appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. Instead of radically altering the mix, Crane goes for a more cleaned-up take. Both Smith’s voice and guitar now sound more distinct, and the same goes for all other instrumentation present.

This approach works well on songs like “Angeles” with every finger-picked note coming through loud and clear atop an almost spectral drone. And on “Ballad of Big Nothing,” the drums provide a solid foundation for Smith’s vocals and acoustic strumming. In fact, the sparser the arrangement the better Crane’s scrub down of the original material sounds. “Say Yes,” one of Smith’s most optimistic songs, inspired by his relationship with musician Joanna Bolme, remains a tender ballad that now sounds like the listener is in the studio with Smith while he’s recording instead of hearing the singer whisper the tune through a set of headphones.

Still, the biggest motivation for anyone to buy a reissued version of an existing album is the inclusion of additional material. The first five songs on the expanded edition’s second disc are live cuts from Smith’s appearance at the Yo Yo A Go Go Festival in Olympia, Wash. in 1997. The singer and guitarist shines in a stripped-down fashion playing three songs from “Either/ Or” as well as the country-inflected “My New Freedom” and b-side “Some Song.” Smith seems relaxed and confident on stage, taking the time to playfully call out to his sister in the audience after completing a performance of “Pictures of Me,” and laughing frequently while asking the crowd if it wants, “to hear a fast song or a slow song.”

The jovial version of Smith also crops up on “I Figured You Out,” a demo of a song recorded for indie folk musician and frequent Smith touring partner Mary Lou Lord, who later recorded a version for her “Martian Saints!” EP. Though filled with lyrics about heartbreak and being ignored, the tune is full of melody and feels unabashedly pop, a juxtaposition any longtime listener of Smith might describe as par for the course.

There are indeed two sides to everything. Either you are an Elliott Smith fan, or you are not. Smith himself often expressed his own duality inside the same song by masking his melancholy words with elegant music. Now, 20 years later with an expanded edition of one of his career highlights, music fans get the opportunity to parse both sides of such a work all over again.

For more information on Elliott Smith please visit http://www.killrockstars.com/artists/elliott-smith.

Read more by Michael Cimaomo at www.michaelcimaomo.wordpress.com.

No Regrets – an interview with Joanna Bolme of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

Jicks Woods - Leah Nash (resize)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (Photo credit: Leah Nash)

Back in January, this blog posted a review of the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ album Wig Out at Jagbags.

Filled with observations on the record’s numerous “references to the West Coast,” and many tracks’ “eminently hummable choruses and clever couplets,” that article, as it turns out, was only the beginning, eventually resulting in this story posted on HearNebraska.org and featuring quotes from an interview this writer completed via e-mail with Jicks’ bassist Joanna Bolme (see picture, second from right).

Now, with the Jicks’ tour arriving in the East this week for shows scheduled in Boston and New York, the Northeast Underground proudly presents its entire interview with Bolme including portions that weren’t used in the finished article mentioned above. Scroll below to check it out!

Underground: First off, where I am reaching you for this interview? Are you at home or between gigs on the road?

Bolme: Home, but we just loaded the van and we’re about to head to Denver.

Your band’s last album, Mirror Traffic, was produced by Beck. But this time, the group chose to co-produce alongside Remko Schouten. What was the reasoning behind this decision, and what, if anything did this change about the recording process? Any regrets?

No regrets at all! We’ve almost always chosen to work with an engineer and produce the records ourselves. Mirror Traffic was a conscious decision to have another person’s voice in the mix. Remko has been doing our live sound in Europe since we began, and before that he did sound for Pavement. He probably knows more than anyone how we like to sound, it moved fast, it’s got a live vibe.

How has your experience as a recording engineer influenced your approach to cutting an album in the studio?

I don’t think it’s changed my approach too much, I’m old fashioned, still use my ears. I never got into Pro Tools too much, although I appreciate what you can do with it. Some engineers can get caught up looking at the waveforms instead of listening. That’s weird to me.

What is the band’s songwriting process like? How is it different or similar compared to your personal way of writing?

Steve [Malkmus] writes the songs, he brings them in either as riffs he just came up with or fully realized demos with most of the parts worked out. We play them until they turn into a Jicks song. I’m not much of a songwriter myself, but we all usually contribute with the arrangement and editing at some point. Like, “This part would have more impact if it only happened once,” or “That riff is my favorite we should stretch it out,” kind of stuff.

How would you describe the reaction you’ve had to this new material on Jagbags?

I’m glad people like it. We had a great time making it. I guess that’s coming through.

Watch the official video for “Cinnamon and Lesbians” by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks here:

Has the band been playing a lot of new stuff on tour, or are you just mixing in a few select cuts alongside the older tunes?

Despite having about seven or eight new songs we’re working on, we have only played one of them live so far. I suspect that once Steve can remember the tuning he used for the other ones, they will start to pop up in the sets.

What might audiences expect and not expect at a typical Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks show?

Expect some shredding, maybe an unlikely cover song, maybe a Pavement song and some topical stage banter. Don’t expect the banter to make any sense.

What are some future projects or recordings you and the band have planned?

Private soirees for foreign diplomats.

For more information on Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks or to see future tour dates please visit stephenmalkmus.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Joanna Bolme gears up for tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – February 13, 2014

Joanna Bolme gears up for tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – February 13, 2014

Joanna Bolme Prepares for Tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Concert Preview - Hear Nebraska (double-size)