Elliott Smith - Either / Or

MANY PEOPLE WON'T GET THIS, but the ones who do will be utterly smitten. In fact, since this record appeared last year on the American Kill Rock Stars label, there's been a growing tribe of devotees over here, raving plenty.

Essentially, it's a bunch of fragile, folksy songs relayed by a gutter poet with an affinity for off-kilter production. The latter aspect is abetted by the Bongload people, who gave Beck a handy start with 'Loser'. 'Either/Or' isn't immediately sexy or exciting. You have to work at it to catch the uncommon spin of the tunes, and to appreciate that some of the best lyrics are barely audible. Then the funs starts.

'Alameda' is a city walk that becomes a descent into hell and is therefore the perfect companion to 'Paranoid Android'. With 'No Name No 5', the singer is ashen and sad, like Mark Eitzel or Alex Chilton, but somehow more redeemable.

The biscuit tin drums (Elliott does everything) are proudly primitive and suggest an affinity with Sebadoh. Yet Elliott can use an old-school melody to deadly effect. 'Say Yes' is like Graham Nash wowing through 'Our House'. And there are numerous echoes of the young Paul Simon, tuned into the drama of the streets. 'Rose Parade' is perhaps the best. You get all the impressionistic flashes of this festive time, as the throng descends. But our hero is quietly distressed on main street, bringing our sympathies with him as he struggles against the flow.

You'll never know the definitive meaning of these songs, but that's perfectly fine, since you can always improvise in this rich place. It's dreamy and extreme: 'Either/Or' has no half measures.


Stuart Bailie