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The Student News Site of Hendrick Hudson

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New Moon by Elliot Smith (2007) Review

New Moon (Elliott Smith album) - Wikipedia
Photo Credits: Kill Rock Stars

Throughout my time listening to and discovering new music, there have been few artists that have resonated with me as deeply as Elliott Smith. The first time I ever listened to Elliott Smith was in 2020 during quarantine, when I was recommended to do so by one of my friends. I immediately fell in love with his music, however it took a few months for my first obsession with his music to form. Over this time my favorite album of his would switch constantly, from Either/Or to Roman Candle, it would be ever changing. It took a few years for me to settle on a favorite, which ended up being XO. Once again this did not last, and since that point in time, my favorite has been his 2007 compilation, New Moon.

New Moon was created after Smith’s passing in 2003 by his label Kill Rock Stars. They wanted to bring to light the music Smith was writing between the years of 1994 to 1997. This time period was around the release of his most popular, and critically acclaimed album, Either/Or. Despite that, this record stands on its own as a unique part of Smith’s discography. Most of the tracks on here feature only him and his guitar. His unique guitar playing abilities combined with his poignant singing and heartbreaking lyrics were enough for this album to succeed. 

There are cathartic moments of sonic climaxes in tracks such as “New Monkey.” From the start you can tell this track is begging to explode with energy because of its driving bass groove and punchy drums. Once it reaches this point he sings one of his most passionate choruses throughout the album,

Look at your hands unoccupied

Look at the lengths you’ll go to hide

You’re under the veil

Pretending to fail

Got a whole lot of empty time left to go

Now you’ve got to fill it with something

I know what you could do, don’t you know

Anything is better than nothing.”

The electric guitars explode around his voice as the track is beaming with energy and life. One of Smith’s best qualities in songwriting is the way in which he crafts his songs. If a song sounds brighter or more exciting, there is a good chance that the lyrics will juxtapose this. In this chorus he outlines a fictional interaction between himself and a record executive that tries to sell out his music. In this scenario he is struggling greatly with his drug addiction and this promotion would only add to the difficulties he is facing. 

This record will give you these rare songs filled with sound to make the more emotionally vulnerable tracks have even more impact. Only a few tracks after “New Monkey,” is the track “Going Nowhere.” This track features a light piano medley and just Smith and his guitar, however his singing feels incredibly defeated. It also highlights the incredible vocal mixing that is usually present on his songs, his vocal takes will be doubled over each other which only adds to their power. 

Just two songs after “Going Nowhere,” is “All Cleaned Out,” which contains one of Smith’s best vocal melodies. It’s one of those earworms that I continually find myself humming or singing in my head. This song is written from the perspective of a young Elliott seeing his mom be continually taken advantage of potential partners and seeing how it affects her. It feels as though he is trying to give her some sort of consolation to make her feel better about her situation while knowing that he is also becoming hurt by it.

This brings me back to my favorite trait of this album, and that is its emotional vulnerability. Not only in its lyrics but in the songs themselves. Since most of these tracks are simply just him and his guitar it feels like he is singing directly to you. This deeply troubled and talented man is laying out all of his frustrations just for the listener and you can’t help but empathize with him. 

That aspect is seen on this album’s version of “Miss Misery.” This is an early version of a song that was used in the soundtrack of the film Good Will Hunting, which saw Smith get nominated for an Oscar. The early version of this song is, in my opinion, far superior because of its different lyrics and overall mood. It is much more melancholic and lyrically, It is heartbreaking. The story being told is of a man who has broken up with a romantic partner and struggles greatly to cope with this. He does everything in his power to try and get over it but simply can’t. This mixture of longing and sadness culminates at the end of the track with the lyrics, 

And I cried a sea when you talked to me

The day you said we were through

But it’s alright, some enchanted night I’ll be with you.”

After this comes a cover of the band Big Star’s “Thirteen,” which is a beautiful and simplatic rendition of the track. It’s also the ending of this record’s first disc before opening with “Georgia, Georgia.” Immediately it opens with a short track that continues the flow of the album. This makes room for “Whatever (Folk Song In C),” a song about two people who meet only to use heroin but form a connection outside of this. He is left confused, wondering why she still wants to be with him even after they reach their high. Once again this track is short but emotionally impactful. 

The only track on this album to be put together through different recordings is “New Disaster,” which happens to be my favorite song on here. It is an incredibly devastating story about someone who has recently gone through a breakup. This person attempts to get better by going out and getting some time outside with people, however he feels his progress is lost when he sees them again. Light airy drums join the track once he does see them again and he sings,

You just blow through the coals

Until everyone knows that your smile is just a ghost

The ghost of your smile was seen on a new body in the park

It’s old news

You see that it’s no use,”

For me personally, there isn’t another set of lyrics that affects me as emotionally as these do. The pairing of his vocal delivery, the lyrics themselves, and the guitars and drumming go on truly defeat me. Even if I am not having a bad day, I can feel chills through my entire body whenever I reach this part. 

Following tracks such as these that leave you emotionally drained come songs that are kinder on your heart. Again this is the case before you are confronted with another song in the same manner. A common lyrical theme that can be found throughout all of Smith’s music is the description of drug addictions or heartbreak. While these themes can be common in other music, the way he writes about them is what makes his music special to me and many other people. He writes about these substances in a way that one would write about an abusive or unhealthy relationship. It offers a new perspective to look at these problems and makes them more easily relatable for people. 

This is important to note before listening to the track, “Pretty Mary K (Other Version).” It is impossibly difficult for me to pick between this or “New Disaster.” This track has a wildly different story that can have multiple interpretations. Depending on your interpretation it can follow a man who is experiencing heavy withdrawal symptoms looking for another chance to get high. Another possible interpretation could be about a man who is in love with a sex worker. Despite his deep love for her he can never have her, he desperately wishes to be with her but simply cannot afford it. 

Onto the music featured on the track, it has lightly drumming and a complex and irregular guitar melody. Elliott’s whispery vocals glide lightly above all of this and guide you through the story. There is a light accordion sounding instrument that adds to the atmosphere of this song. When the lyrics reach an emotional climax, so does the rest of the track. The whole track reaches this point when he sings, 

“I’ll be waiting, still impatient with my dead imagination

While you’re with some other man

Pretty Mary K is off in somebody’s room.”

For a long time these lyrics were the pinnacle of melancholia for me. Feeling this unrequited love for someone or something you know you could never have. Regardless of how you interpret this track, the feeling of not being able to obtain something you so long for is something most people can relate to in some point of their lives. 

Once more this album leaves you with some tracks that are great on their own, but aren’t as brilliant and depressing as the ones before it. These tracks allow you to prepare for whatever the next one could bring. This commonality continues leading up to the closing track, “Half Right.” Originally released as a song for Elliott Smith’s former band, Heatmiser, this acoustic rendition closes this 24 track compilation. 

The acoustic version of this track puts an entirely new spin on the song. It is heartbreaking compared to the original, thanks mostly to his vocals. The lyrics were already there to make this track melancholic but since it’s just him it feels like he is alone there. Alone he sings his heart out to you for one final track before the silence hits as the album ends. 

If it wasn’t clear already this album is one that I hold near and dear to my heart. For four years now I have constantly been listening to it. Throughout all the struggles I have faced in those four years I always had this album to be there for me. That is the beauty of Smith’s music to me, during every unfortunate situation you face his music is always there for you. 

With this being said, Elliott Smith’s New Moon is my personal favorite album of all time, and I would easily give it a perfect 10/10.

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    Elaine CMay 17, 2024 at 12:11 pm

    new monkey is one of the greatest songs ever written ever