I listened to a lot of Elliott Smith over the weekend, including burning an retrospective disk for a friend. The brilliance of Smith's music and the tragedy of his life make such a compelling mixture that I can't help being drawn in, again and again. I didn't start listening to Smith until after his death, the shocking suddenness of which dove me back into the one song of his I owned, "Rose Parade", from an old CMJ Music Monthly sampler disc. I had never listened closely to the song before that, but after revisiting its near-perfect combination of melodicism, gritty street-level lyrics and pensive sadness, I was hooked.
After that I dabbled in a few free mp3s at the Paste magazine site, then bought either/or (with the proceeds of a check from, fittingly enough, a class-action lawsuit against the major record labels for price fixing), then got a burned copy of XO from a friend at my previous job, and finally received the posthumous collection From a Basement on the Hill and the utterly excellent Figure 8 as gifts. (I still haven't picked up the first two albums or the from-the-vaults collection New Moon, and I'm not sure if I ever will. The four albums that I own are so richly fulfilling that I don't feel much need to be a completist.)
For several years now I've had my eye on Matthew LeMay's XO, his short study of that album from Continuum's endlessly fascinating 33 1/3 series. I've never seen the book in person, but have had it on both my Powell's and Amazon wishlists, hoping someone would gift it to me. (I'm impossible to shop for, so when anyone asks I just point them to my wishlists.) But no luck there. So this afternoon, being a beautiful day in the city, I took a stroll over to Reckless Records on Madison to browse the short shelf of 33 1/3 books they stock. I didn't remember seeing XO during my previous visit, but this time, there it was. After paging through, it looked really good, and so I parted with some of my mad money (a small fund reserved for just such a small occasion) and bought it. The combination couldn't be more perfect: Reckless (whose Lakeview store I used to haunt for endless hours during my first city stint), literature and Elliott Smith. I almost couldn't not buy the book.
XO is probably my favorite Elliott Smith album. For me it perfectly bridges the gap between the indie-troubador strumming of either/or and the glorious power-pop of Figure 8, and beautifully encapsulates Smith's formidable artistic talent. I'm really looking forward to reading LeMay's book, preferably with the album playing on my iPod. And possibly a handkerchief to cry into.