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Elliott Smith, ‘New Moon’ (Kill Rock Stars)

If there is comfort in being sad, Elliott Smith knew it once. The late singer/songwriter’s early four-track recordings were about the good kind of loneliness: wandering through the city just before morning, waiting for a train to come or a drug to kick in, hoping that something might happen.

But the tension between being and nothingness was never easy for this former punk as he battled depression and addiction. On 1997’s “Miss Misery,” he wondered if he’d ultimately choose to “vanish into oblivion” or “fake it through the day.” When he died from two stab wounds to the chest, in 2003, his legend was cast as an answer to that question.

This double-disc collection might help change that. The strongest demos and rarities from his 1994-1997 period, such as the Beatles-influenced “Angel in the Snow” and a bright but stripped-down cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” get to Smith’s best impulse: a willingness to find the innocence in life. Even the tracks about getting high (“New Monkey,” “First Timer”) celebrate naïveté. Drugs are metaphors for love, not the other way around. And in these stark, tender songs, that’s optimism: the promise of “things that haven’t happened yet.” That’s also what makes New Moon so tragic. It marks the end of an era when simply waiting for what’s next was enough.

Now Hear This: Elliott Smith – “High Times” DOWNLOAD MP3

>> Read an anthology of Spin magazine pieces on Elliott Smith