written by scott kohler

kill rock stars, 1997
rating: ***** (out of *****)

either/or is a pop masterpiece. elliott's mostly acoustic songs prove that a limited number of instruments and tracks don't have to limit the richness of his music. there are twelve songs here, and none of them sound like filler (although the distortion-soaked cupid's trick seems a bit out of place in the company of the other tracks). there is no question in
my mind after listening to this album probably more than a hundred times over the past few months that this man is the greatest songwriter in pop today.

the songs have tinges of folk and punk, i suppose, although the elliott smith touch makes them distinctive in their own right. really, they are hard to classify; it's low-key acoustic pop, and it is all fascinating. the album opens with three surprisingly diverse takes on a similar theme. "speed trials", "alameda", and "ballad of big nothing" all waste no time in deflating the egos and lifestyles of a few losers. "between the bars" is a gentle and thoughtful song with a slightly more positive tone than the first three. later on in the album, highlights include "rose parade" (a song that nails its own setting with shocking precision), "no name no. 5" (with the great lyric "got a broken heart and your name on my cast"), and the bouncy, delightful love song "say yes", which features brilliant use of stereo on elliott's triple-tracked (at least) vocals.

still, my favorite song on either/or is "pictures of me", which moves from a minor key climbing guitar part for an intro into a steady, bouncing beat as elliott's amazing vocals begin. the lyrics are interesting, the singing energetic and insistent, and the music stunning. elliott's guitar goes through a ton of chord changes that somehow manage to always fit. this song makes hardly any sense musically, but it's one of the best songs i've ever heard.

every song is worth listening to again and again, and as an album, they all seem to belong with each other (except for the great but still a-little-too-noisy-for-either/or "cupid's trick", like i said). along with the flawless acoustic guitar throughout, elliott himself provides a bass-and-drums rhythm section that could not be any better than it is. each song is backed with the perfect musical atmosphere, and if it seems i've used terms like "perfect" too many times, i haven't. either/or is the closest album to perfect that I've heard this side of pet sounds or the beatles.