10 Years Ago: Posthumous Collection ‘New Moon’ Digs into Elliott Smith’s Vaults
When Elliott Smith died under mysterious circumstances in the fall of 2003, he left a trove of unreleased recordings in the vaults. After the singer/songwriter’s final studio effort, From a Basement on the Hill, came out, friend and official Smith archivist Larry Crane began to dig through what was left behind over the years. The result was a two-disc compilation of odds and sods from titled New Moon, which arrived May 8, 2007.
The two dozen songs were outtakes culled from Smith’s sessions for his eponymous 1995 solo album and its 1997 follow-up, Either/Or, radio show performances, compilations on which he appeared. All of the music came from that prolific period across just two years. And unlike the shoddy versions of many of the songs that had been passed among fans for years on bootlegs, according to Crane, these were complete for the most part.
“Most of the ones that were tracked on the 8-track 1/2″ machine were pretty well done,” he told Glorious Noise. “The same as tracks from Elliott Smith or Either/Or. I was really just balancing the mix and adding very simple, light EQ or compression to some tracks. Nothing fancy or over-the-top.”
Very little of the material feels like castoffs; especially what was in proper terms “leftover” from the two studio albums. “Go By,” “Going Nowhere” and the until-then unused title track from Either/Or are vintage Smith; gorgeous and haunting. The latter is evident in how heartbreakingly hard the singer is on himself, certainly nothing new to longtime devotees.
“I'm a crap reflection of you,” Smith sings in “Seen How Things Are Hard.” “What are you doing hanging out with me,” he plaintively wonders in “Whatever (Folk Song in C).” Elsewhere, on “New Monkey” and “Riot Coming” he touches on the drug addiction that plagued him for a good deal of his career.
The 1996 radio session is stellar, from which three songs are pulled; a cover of the Big Star classic “Thirteen” (a proper studio version would appear on the Thumbsucker soundtrack in 2005) and takes on “Half Right” and “See You Later,” both from his former band Heatmiser. The stripped-down renditions are nothing short of breathtaking in their delicateness.
The aforementioned bootlegs continue to crop up all over the place, and maybe some of those elements is what Crane was talking about when he was asked if there was more music, either before or after the period represented on New Moon.
“There is other music,” he said. “In some cases the tracks not used seemed too different to fit in, and in one case we didn’t even know from where, when or who was on a track, so it was left off. There is the possibility that unused tracks of decent quality could be used as compilation tracks, or such, in the future.”
Almost a decade later, for the soundtrack to the documentary Heaven Adores You, many sketches of unfinished tracks, alternate takes and demos would finally see the light of day.
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