1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 31

Either / Or, by Elliott Smith
Suggested by Stuart Taylor

I’m listening to these albums via my living room Alexa.

There’s a number of such devices in Chez Craig. While we have padded the Bezos bank books with a slew of smart devices, we haven’t quite gone all in. We don’t have one in every room, just most rooms. And we’ve not wired up our lamps or white goods to this home-shopping Skynet just yet; we’re not monsters.

Quality-wise, while not perfect, the sound is more than enough for the small rooms which make up our home. And it’s fun to squat lordly in the comfy chairs and demand our virtual assistant fetch us the best entertainment money can buy. Sometimes the fun is doubled, when our strident demands from the office are picked up by the Alexa in the bedroom, and so on.

Why do I mention this? Do I have a point, or is it simply word salad used to pad the word count?

I raise these points because when I fired up Either / Or, I legitimately had to check that I’d not set it running in the kitchen instead of the living room.

Either / Or is nice, but everything feels as though it’s being played elsewhere. The music is far away, and sometimes I was straining to connect with it in a direct way. It’s low-key and reassuring, but also very peripheral. Listening, I felt as though I was living next to a lounge bar, catching snippets of the resident musician’s early Thursday afternoon set through the wall, being performed for three regulars and a disinterested barman.

Elliott Smith has a signature style that’s melodic and understated, and a voice that conjures some of the more gentle and dreamy bands that the Sixties had to offer. There’s more than a barrelful of Monkees here, and more grains of the Beach Boys than you’d find in a handful of sand. The songwriting is delicate, and the whole thing has a dreamlike ambience almost insists you switch off and let it flow around you. It’s mellow, mellifluous and largely inoffensive, like Eels without the harrowing understory.

Sadly, as the music was almost willing me to ignore it, I found little to preen or fawn over. It was a pleasant noise, but I felt like I’d got the measure of it within the first few tracks. Standout song? Probably Pictures of Me, which had a touch more drive that the rest. I give Either / Or a 5/10, and I’m in no rush to revisit.

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