Either/Or was the first Elliott Smith album I bought. Like a lot of people outside the Pacific Northwest my first exposure to Elliott Smith was the movie Good Will Hunting. Or maybe a pal put something on a mixtape. I can’t remember why but at the time I was opposed to buying soundtracks, so I picked up Either/Or essentially as a way to get my favorite song from the film: “Say Yes.”
I immediately became obsessed. Songs like “Ballad of Big Nothing” and “Rose Parade” had a melodic sensibility that appealed to the Beatles fanatic in me and the dark, clever lyrics were right up my Tom Waits-loving, low-life alley. The recording sounded like it was made by people who reeked of stale cigarette smoke and beer sweat. This was the 90s and bars couldn’t be divey enough for people like us. The dirtier and cheaper, the better. Elliott Smith sounded like a guy we might see in the corner booth at Teazer’s, sipping something in a rocks glass and nodding along and smirking when a not-too-terrible song got played on the jukebox. This is what I projected onto him anyway from listening to the album and looking at the cover photo.
We didn’t have wikipedia in those days so I had to gather clues by scouring the liner notes: “recorded at joanna’s house, my house, the shop, undercover inc., heatmiser house, and laundry rules.” The label was Kill Rock Stars, the home of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. This was all we had to go on, to make up narratives of our own.
Since then, there have been a number of posthumous releases. First there was From a Basement on the Hill, a collection of the stuff he was working on before he died. In 2007 there was New Moon, a compilation of 24 outtakes mostly recorded between 1994 and 1997. I interviewed archivist Larry Crane back then about putting together that release. A couple years later I interviewed Crane again about what he found in the archives since New Moon. He said there probably wasn’t enough unreleased stuff to release another album, but “There are a lot of interesting alternate and live versions of songs though. I could see doing ‘bonus disc’ versions of the proper albums as a possibility.”
That idea is coming to fruition as KRS is releasing an expanded Either/Or on March 10. It will contain a remastered version of the album and an additional disc containing five live tracks from 1997, three unreleased studio recordings, and one b-side. Apparently, the original mastering of the album will remain in print as a standalone release, which liberated Crane to tinker with the sound on the expanded edition. Talking with the New York Times, Crane said, “The regular version of the album will stay completely available and unchanged.”
But with the original remaining in print, Mr. Crane and the mastering engineer Adam Gonsalves had more leeway to experiment with the sound of the reissue, which they beefed up, using new technology, while removing excess noise for additional sonic clarity. “It started to feel like we were lifting the veil off,” Mr. Crane said.
I’m assuming this is going to be a similar update to what Crane did with Roman Candle in 2010. I was leery of that project until I heard it; the differences were not super obvious and definitely not negative. So I’m not too worried about them messing up Either/Or. I’m excited to hear it!
“I Figured You Out” was recorded in 1995 as a demo for Mary Lou Lord, who later recorded a version (produced, performed, recorded, and mixed by Elliott Smith) for her Martian Saints EP (KRS-264). Neil Gust plays doubled drums.
Either/Or: Expanded Edition track list
1. Speed Trials
3. Ballad of Big Nothing
4. Between the Bars
5. Pictures of Me
6. No Name No. 5
7. Rose Parade
8. Punch and Judy
10. Cupid’s Trick
11. 2:45 AM
12. Say Yes
1. My New Freedom (live)
2. Pictures of Me (live)
3. Angeles (live)
4. Some Song (live)
5. Rose Parade (live)
6. New Monkey (keys)
7. I Don’t Think I’m Ever Gonna Figure It Out (remixed/remastered)
8. I Figured You Out
9. Bottle Up and Explode! (alternate version)
Pre-order it directly from Kill Rock Stars.
Update: Elliott Smith – “Angeles” (live)