Music Reviews
New Moon

Elliott Smith New Moon

(Kill Rock Stars) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

I recently had a friend tell me he'd rather not listen to New Moon, the two-disc collection of extra Elliott Smith material because he'd "like to respects Smith's decision" to leave these songs on the cutting room floor. I mulled over his supposition. Am I in some way desecrating Elliott Smith's memory by shelling out cash to some faceless fat cat capitalizing on Smith's death, all so I can selfishly listen to songs he didn't intend on releasing in the first place? After some thought and another listen I decided that my friend is an idiot and any fresh material from Smith is worth cherishing. We should remember that Smith didn't intend for his first album Roman Candle to be heard by the masses either. Only a friend began passing the tape around did it begin to garner any attention and eventually lead to a record deal.

This collection compiles the leftovers from Smith's formative years on the Kill Rock Stars label, including cuts from his 1995's self-titled album to 1997's Either/Or. This is back in the Portland days when Smith developed his style and technique, rarely recording with more than an acoustic guitar and double-tracked vocals. Smith was a recording zealot and in addition to his five studio albums and one posthumous release he was known for recording dozens and dozens of songs that never got to see the light of day. Like his early albums the tracks here possess a raw, stark quality. According to Smith's archivist, Larry Crane, the mixing of the tracks adhered to Smith's annotations. Only minor alterations have been made in order to reduce tape hiss, while focus was placed on preserving the original essence of the songs.

Through such straightforwardness New Moon is able to show Smith as he is figuring it all out and growing more confident with his voice and style. Some songs here clock in around the two-minute mark and seem to be only rough sketches of ideas that never quite came to fruition. Nevertheless, their potential alone is powerful. An early version of Miss Misery is a special treat. The title character is never mentioned, allowing the song to take on an altogether more hopeful feeling than the polished studio version recognizable on the soundtrack of Good Will Hunting.

This sensation of hope is poignant, fleeting, and often hides under dark shrouds that wouldn't be out of place alongside any of Smith's material. High Times, with its foreboding momentum and bleak outlook on the junkie lifestyle could quite easily be the sister song to Smith's classic Needle in the Hay. He breaks away from folksy finger picking and confidently strums whole chords on All Cleaned Out, a touching song about Smith's mother, which acts as a precursor to the sentiments that would later be heard on 1998's XO. A few old Heatmiser (Smith's band prior to his solo career) songs round out the collection as well as a live cover of Big Star's Thirteen. Both discs are equally strong with a mesmerizing night-time tone and a surprising lack of filler for a bits and pieces collection.

Considering that this 24-song set of discarded tracks rises above most artists' full-length albums speaks volumes without me having to praise it any further. So don't fret over my friend's postulation that all of this is somehow disrespectful to the man's memory. New Moon, like all of Smith's material, contains grim subtext that will always be listened to with the accompaniment of remorseful sighs, but hope manages to be present as well, leaving no reason to feel guilt or shame for appreciating this posthumous release right alongside Smith's existing discography.