There will never be a new Elliott Smith record. There, I said it. It's one of those things that you need to actually verbalize in order for the severity of the concept to properly sink in. The pure tragedy of his death is something we all tend to forget, and the recently compiled New Moon is a fresh reminder of the talent the world lost in Smith's passing.
The 24 songs that make up this double disc were compiled from Smith's most prolific period of songwriting, from 1994-1997, AKA the Cavity Search Records and Kill Rock Stars years. Longtime friend and Jackpot! Studios owner, Larry Crane, handled the final mixing of New Moon, tastefully keeping the songs true to that classic low-fi, tape-hiss sound we've come to expect. This album is pre-major label, pre-Los Angeles, and even pre-Good Will Hunting. In addition to a subdued bedroom version of "Miss Misery" is Smith's absolutely flawless cover of Big Star's "Thirteen." A glimpse of teenage love, the song will forever belong to Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, but Smith's take adds a new uncertain dimension, as the nervous protagonist quivers out the famous line of "Won't you tell your dad 'Get off my back'/Tell him what we said 'bout 'Paint it Black'/Rock 'n' roll is here to stay." Maybe it's how effortlessly the line sounds coming from Smith—a man, who despite his best efforts, lived such a public, and dark, life—but it's hard to not imagine him as a young man hearing that song for the first time, and forever cataloging it away, only to emerge in all its sweetness years down the line.
Of course New Moon is not Smith's masterwork, nor does it offer an answer to the still-disturbing elements of his tragic passing. It's just an excellent record, that's all. In all the posthumous pomp and circumstance of releasing this album—along with 2004's From a Basement on the Hill—we tend to forget that Smith as a songwriter, and a person, was best when left alone. These unearthed songs are a return to early Smith, the local kid who sang in Heatmiser and so brilliantly confessed to the junkie's waltz of walking those last four blocks from 6th and Powell, dead sweat in his teeth. This is Portland Elliott Smith, all over again.