First off, I'm going to tell you that if you're a fan of Elliot Smith and don't own this album, stop whatever you're doing and go hunt it down right now. After you've gotten your hands on it, pop the release into your CD player and listen to it all the way through. Once it's done, chances are that you'll be so happy and sad at the same time that you'll simply push the play button and listen to it again. I say happy because this is arguably his best release ever, and I say sad because at only 36 minutes, it leaves you wanting even more.
Of course that's no reason to knock the release, though. Over the course of 12 tracks, Smith pours out his heart and soul over little more than an acoustic guitar, bass and some skittish drums, but that doesn't matter one bit. His voice and vocals sound vulnerable (yet natural) and althougth the production is a bit rough around the edges at times, it's that raw sound that drives home things like neither XO or Figure 8 quite could.
Actually, it takes no further than the first few seconds of the release to understand what you're getting into with the release. You can actually hear the contact of the tape heads on the four track at the very beginning of "Speed Trials" and the quality of the tape gives way to a few wrinkles in the first few chords played as well. The drums feel all hollowed-out and like they may have been recorded on a crappy boombox, but everything is completely pulled together under Smiths two-part vocals and his voice that sounds like it's just about ready to crack on several occassions. Of course, if you think that song's good, he steps it up even more with the second track "Alameda," and never really looks back from there. Again, there are the two-part, singing-with-himself vocals and ragged guitars coupled with semi-sloppy drumming, but when he sings, "Nobody broke your heart / You broke your own / Cause you can't finish what you start," it's like hearing those words that are so concise and true that you wish you'd written them first (or feel like you could have said them at some point anyway).
The great thing about the album is that really none of the songs on the release let up. "Ballad Of Big Nothing" takes off on the heels of the aforementioned tracks and cranks things up a few notches before Smith gets quiet and introspective again on "Between The Bars." Whether it's the quite guitar plucking of "Angeles" or the jaunty, almost sing-song feel of "Pictures Of Me," the instrumentation is something that also stays pretty widely varied on the release. Smith has always been one to keep songs on the shorter side rather than letting things stretch out, but this album has nary a wasted space. It's 36 minutes of very excellent lo-fi singer/songwriter work by one of the best out there. Basically a must have.