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Either / Or
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful
on September 24, 2004
As we're bearing down on the relase date for "From a basement on the Hill," I thought it might be time to put in my say concerning this, my favorite album from everyone's favorite Fool on the Hill...

Subtle chord changes, the occasional drums and backing instruments. If you prefer, as I do, stripped down Elliott (the KRS albums) to full on Beatles-orchestration-bandleader Elliott (the Dreamworks) then this is your album. It holds together more cohesively than his previous, self-titled release.

Be that as it may, I think Elliott never put out a perfect release. But his flaws are perfect in their way... Kinda like his buterfly wings voice, so apparently frail on the surface: haunting and fluttering- always on the verge of sounding like he was about to slip off-key... but he never did...

Truth be told- There's a couple of songs on this that I can't stand, skip 'em every time. But the ones that I love (Between the Bars, Alameda, Speed trials, Angeles, Pictures of me, 2:45, The morning after, and especially No Name #6) are all among not only my hands-down Elliott picks but are also some of my most favorite songs, period. 'Between the Bars' alone would be worth this, easily one of the most achingly soulful, sad, sad songs ever to take shape in the human soul.

This stands firmly poised on the precipice, intimating the tempestuous break from KRS and the switch to Dreamworks, right around all that Good Will Hunting madness... The answers may not be forthcoming on the why and how of Mr. Smith's demise. resign yourself to it. We can only guess at the inner workings of this guy- peering in through the windows he's left us. This is my favorite room, looking in.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2000
I have to thank Spin magazine for my purchase of Elliot Smith's Either/Or. I saw the album located as one of the best albums of the 90s and decided to go purchase the album. SPIN WAS COMPLETELY WRONG. This album should have been way farther up than the rating it got. Where have I been? How come I had never heard of Elliot Smith before this? I love every song on this album. Beautiful melodies and flowing intelligent lyrics - Either/Or is one of the most haunting and elegant albums I have ever heard. Speed Trials is glorious and so is Alameda. Ballad of Big Nothing is without a doubt the highlight of the album. Between the Bars, Pictures of Me, No Name No.5, Rose Parade, Punch and Judy, Cupid's Trick, 2:45 AM - all GREAT songs. Say Yes and Angeles are other highlights. Elliot Smith has a ethereal voice and combined with his guitar- creates an experience that can only be heard. I haven't heard XO or his self-titled. But from some people I've talked to - they say XO or the self-titled is better. How can you top this? I can't wait to find out.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2002
Okay, here's the deal with Elliott Smith. There's nothing new to him. There's nothing he does, be it the Beatlesque melodies, the Arlo Guthrie fingerpicking, the Nick Drake lyrics melding anguish with cynicism-- there is nothing he does that hasn't been done before. That's not the point. Elliott Smith is not a living genius, nor is he destined to change the face of pop music as we know it (if anything, he's destined to remind us of how incredible it can be). But he is a damn good songwriter, and "either/or" is his best record.
Basically, this is a great album. It's not quite as downbeat as the previous "Elliott Smith;" while it gets pretty heavy there's nothing like "Needle In The Hay" to really depress you. Instead, Smith adopts sort of a sly sense of humor on some of his songs, particularly "Rose Parade," which when viewed in one light is absolutely hysterical. He also seems to be viewing love a little more on the bright side, in "Say Yes" (though even that has an unfortunate, but perfectly natural spin). The melodies are all very simple, usually repeated two-bar phrases before the chorus, but they're great melodies, showcasing Smith's delicate tenor, and also focusing attention to the lyrics (no small feat, especially when he practically whispers half his lines).
The best moments are when Smith lets his guard down a little, like "Between The Bars," or "Cupid's Trick." Other than the Penny Lane shuffle of "Pictures Of Me" and the mild stroll of "Ballad Of Big Nothing," the album is quite low-key. No big surprises, no gallant orchestras, just some great songs.
And all in all, this is one of my all-time favorite records. Every song is consistent enough to stand on its own, yet they all fuse so well together. There's nothing too thematic, or grandiose, and I could definitely cite albums that had a greater emotional impact when I first heard them, but this is just a very, very solid collection of teriffic songs. It showed Smith was still progressing as an artist and still had a really good way to go (and we got to experience all of it!). His subsequent two releases have been much more studio-oriented, with expansive arrangements, more complex melodies, and orchestrations that would make Brian Wilson proud; and it is true, some of the intimacy, the living-room-guy-with-a-guitar sound has been lost. But that's okay, because there's still "either/or," which is still my favorite. You won't be disappointed.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2001
First, this album is a work of genius.
Second, here is why you should buy it. "Either/Or" is Elliot's 3rd solo release, following 3 albums and several EPs with the Portland indie/grunge band Heatmiser. I can't speak for "roman candle" or "Elliot Smith," but i can tell you about this album...which is one of the best i have ever heard.
As several other reviews said, this album has an ethereal, acoustic sound, best compared to Simon and Garfunkel or Nick Drake. The songs - short, but beautiful - are vintage Elliot, with moody, depressing lyrics generally about the girl who got away - and why it's his own fault. "Nobody broke your heart...you broke your own cuz you can't finish what you start," he chants over and over on "Alameda." Elliot utilizes both complex, Dylanesque lines along with simple, powerful phrases like the chorus of "Ballad of Big Nothing" to create truly moving songs...and if that's not enough, Elliot is a fine singer.
The highlight of many songs is the vocal melody, especially on the bright "Rose Parade." Elliot's trademarke guitar work is here, of course - his pick/strum chord-oriented songs comprise the bulk of the album. The music stands on it's own, yet creates a suberb backing for Elliot's singing and lyrics. This is one of his best albums, and i would consider it stronger than XO, which has been more universally acclaimed (even by this website!). A few standout tracks - of course, the songs from Good Will Hunting... "Ballad of Big Nothing" "Say Yes" and "Between the Bars." The entire album is great, however, with not a single weak track.
You should pick this one up - everyone should give "Either/Or" a chance, because someday it will stand as one of the finest albums produced during the 1990's...and maybe ever.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2005
I went into all the Elliott Smith hype very sceptically. Everyone just raving and raving, saying he was our generations bob dylan i think i heard a couple of times. Nine times out of ten don't believe the hype. Elliott, however, is one of those rare exceptions. I really don't see where the Bob Dylan similarities come in. They are both incredible poets and play acoutsic guitar but thats about it. Leave "The New Bob Dylan" label with Bright Eyes. So anyways, this is a classic record. I mean absoluetly flawless. He can play acoustic guitar like a god and crafts intricate, beautiful melodies which compliment his gorgeous voice. Every Song has so much depth to it. You could listen to this album forever and still be completely enthralled. In fact it gets better after every listen. Not very many artists can do that. I personally fell in love with "Ballad of Big Nothing" "2:45 am" and "Between the Bars" but there isn't one bad or filler track on here. Well maybe cupid's trick, but that's debatable; its a solid song with some infectious guitar work. This is a good CD to just hang out with, get a little drunk, and possibly wallow a bit if that's your thing. This certainly isn't a "happy" album, but that's not what elliott was about anyway. And I love him for it.

This is an essential addition to your music collection. His other work is also fantastic. His last three projects were considerably more produced than this, but that's understandable with being picked up by a big label and all. His first two cd's are very very sparse, but brilliant just the same. It's a tragedy there won't be anymore.

Either/Or is a great introduction to E.S. Buy It.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2006
I have owned this album for a few years. I always liked it, but I just didn't give it the time it deserved. When I bough XO earlier this year, I absolutely fell in love with Elliott Smith. I played that album a million times, for it was immediately accessible to me. I was convinced that it was better than Either/Or. However, when I decided that I would give Either/Or another spin after becoming more familiar with Smith, the true power of this album jumped right out at me! I heard the songs like I had never heard them before, and as I kept listening to Either/Or, the songs kept getting better and better. Either/Or is my favorite because it is not as heavily produced as XO, which gives the songs more meaning to me, but it is more diverse than Roman Candle or his self-titled album. The songs are more somber and subdued than his songs on XO, but they are not as flat-out depressing as his earlier stuff (which, don't get me wrong, is just as amazing). His lyrics on this album ring even truer to me now than those on XO. It just took me an extra step (XO) to get to this masterpiece. My advice for new listeners is to start out with XO. If you hate it, Elliott is not for you. If you love it, buy this one. Once you fall madly in love with this album, all of his other albums should be greatly enjoyable to you as well.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2001
The title of this album is the same as that of a book by the 19th C. philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. In the first paragraph of that book, Kierkegaard speaks of a poet as being a person whose lips are shaped in such a way that their sighs of sorrow sound to us, the audience, like beautiful music. Elliott Smith's music is some of saddest, and the most beautiful, that I have ever heard in the popular music genre.
It is impossible to speak of this album in anything less than superlatives. It is one of those few albums -- like John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and the Velvet Underground and Nico -- that necessitates listening, without interruption, from the first to the final track. Elliott's overlayed voice barely rises above a whisper, and many of the songs include only acoustic guitars and bare percussion. But the solitude and concentration of the arrangements -- performed by Elliott alone -- allows more musical depth, in the subtelty of his intonation or the phrasing of his guitar, than a collaborative or more orchestrated effort could possibly achieve. His lyrics, in the tradition of great pop songs, are understood only in the context of the music, and walk that fine line between abstraction and articulation such that the listener understands perfectly his message, though perhaps that message is different for every listener or for Elliott himself.
There is no musician to compare to Elliott Smith, not because he is perfectly original but because he has woven himself in the tradition of pop music in such a way that any attempt at comparison would lack dimension. Essentially, if you have sat in a room and listened to music and just been absorbed by it, if you have that patience and capacity to hear and be moved, then this is an album that you should own. It's the kind of album that people will be buying and listening to twenty years from now.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2004
Recently I looked through all of the CD's that I have reviewed and I realized that, for the most part, I never review the albums that mean the most to me. Those albums that strike a chord deep in my heart and that have true meaning in my life, not just records that are catchy and fun to have on in the background. Maybe it's because I am worried I won't be able to do them justice? Or maybe I'm worried that I'll detract from the special feeling that comes each time I listen to it if I analyze it too much. More likely than not though, I think I never discuss these albums because they are personal and private and something I want to keep to myself.
However, in light of recent events I feel like I need to say something about Elliott Smith's work and how devestatingly beautiful it is. I'm not going to try to analyze anything here or try to come up with creative metaphors for his sound. I just want to make it clear that I absolutely love everything he's done.
Either/Or is my favorite of his albums, and is tremendous through and through. It is raw and beautiful in a disturbing fashion. Listening to his simple melodies and open-hearted lyrics is both therapeutic as well as haunting and it is so tragic that more people never were tuned in to his amazing work.
Maybe it's better that way though? Elliott never wanted the spotlight or the fame. He wanted his life to be simple, quiet, and held close to himself. Maybe that's how his records should be for those of us who do treasure them.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2000
I was introduced to Elliott Smith via "Either/Or," and there could not have been a more dramatic way to be turned on to this man's musical genius. I had to take this CD in little doses at first, because its brilliance is like staring into an ethereal, intense light that can become painful if taken in for too long. 1. "Speed Trials" -- You can just see Elliott hunched over his 4-track in his bedroom late at night, trying not to wake someone in the next room. Hushed, tense, it sucks you in completely. 2. "Alameda" -- maybe my favorite Elliott song. "Nobody broke your heart/You broke your own," and the way it's sung, is just crushing. 3. "The Ballad of Big Nothing" -- Unbearably catchy and unbearably sad at the same time. 4. "Say Yes" -- I wish I could have written this song and sung it to my girlfriend as a present. A deep, beautifully sung love song without a trace of cheap sentimentality. 5. "Pictures of Me" -- maybe a little too dark and pessimistic for some, but the Merseybeat guitars and drums make this sound like some glorious White Album outtake. 6. "No Name #5" -- when the "worst" song on an album still makes your hairs stand on end, you know you've got a classic. 7. "Rose Parade" -- a tale of alienation set among Portland's annual summer parade. Simple chords, complex pathos. 8. "Punch and Judy" -- a quiet, sweet, gorgeous little pop song with shimmering organ and a nifty chord progression at the end of the 1st verse. 9. "Angeles" -- another stunner, so full of atmosphere and bittersweet longing. A wonderful song. 10. "Cupid's Trick" -- the rocker. Pretty harsh electric guitars anchor another great pop tune. 11. "2:45 AM" -- short, simple, searing. The ascending bassline will ring in your head forever. 12. "Say Yes" -- the most optimistic, sunny tune Elliott had written to that point. Smile, it's not so bad. Maybe the most beautiful of an amazingly beautiful bunch. If you love pop music, you simply must buy this album. It can very possibly change your life.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2006
Nothing to say that hasn't been said before, but yes, a very good CD from the most talented singer/songwriter of the 90's.

Alameda/Rose Parade are amazing.
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