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Vinyl Corner : Elliott Smith – ‘Either/Or Expanded Edition’

Vinyl Corner is a new feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect, as well as a brief overview of the music itself. For the fourth instalment of the series, we’re looking at the recent expanded reissue of Elliott Smith’s seminal ‘Either/Or’.

The Music:

In many ways the perfect distillation of Elliott Smith’s singular brand of genius, ‘Either/Or’ stands today as perhaps his best known record. Released in 1997, the album sits in the middle of the five records released in his lifetime, both literally and stylistically. Where his first two solo LPs were home-recorded and decidedly lo-fi, ‘Either/Or’ saw Smith step into the studio for the first time as a solo artist. In many ways it signals the grander orchestration and soaring ambition of his two subsequent major label efforts whilst still retaining the striking intimacy and relatively sparse arrangements of his earlier work. It’s a middle-ground that brings with it incredible clarity; it’s an album where not a note is out of place and where every instrument feels carefully poised for maximum impact.

This expanded edition added a disc of bonus material to the original studio LP – comprising of some 17 minutes of live material and a further 10 minutes of studio rarities. There’s perhaps not quite enough here to entice more casual listeners and newcomers but nonetheless there are some real gems here that make the set more than worthwhile for Smith acolytes.

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The Pressing:

There are a few different pressings of the Either/Or Expanded Edition – including a coloured vinyl issue – but we’re looking specifically at the US Kill Rock Stars pressing on black wax. Spread over two LPs, the original album can be found on the first disc whilst bonus material is allotted to the second. The original album boasts a fresh new remaster – the first time the record’s ever had such a makeover – and it sounds great. Whilst purists might argue that the album didn’t exactly need remastering – and they may have a point – the results do speak for themselves and it sounds really good. It’s definitely the cleanest ‘Either/Or’ has ever sounded and some of the innate grit of the original is made less obvious here. Rather than seeking to render the original obsolete, then, the remaster stands more as an intriguing and worthwhile alternative option rather than an overt improvement over the original. Those less versed in the album’s sonics likely won’t notice a great difference, but long-term fans definitely ought to check the remaster out if only for the fact that it casts the album in a fresh-faced light.

The pressing itself is excellent. Surface noise is practically nonexistent and the album is likewise free of sibilance issues. Weighing in at around 175 grams by our count, both discs are pretty substantial slabs of wax and they sound fantastic, also sitting nice and flat against the platter. Made by Czech’s GZ Media, it’s an impressive release; a blessing given that the quietness of the music would only make any surface noise all the more obvious.

The Packaging:

Packaging is attractive, with a couple of nice touches that elevates it above the presentation of most albums. Presented in a chunky gatefold sleeve with a nice wide spine, it also comes with an obi strip boasting information on the release and other Smith records available from the label. It’s a clever touch and an attractive and novel way to present information usually imparted through the use of a hype sticker on the shrink-wrap. The records come in visually attractive but fairly lightweight card inner sleeves; it’s certainly welcome to have printed inner sleeves as opposed to generic ones but the card is fairly lightweight and susceptible to ring-wear, so swapping them out for inner-sleeves of your own preference is recommended.

Also included is a lyric insert fashioned after the one found with original pressings and a tasteful, artistic download code, redeemable in a variety of formats. Throughout, print-quality is nice with the cover art free of digital artefacts or blurring.

Final Thoughts:

Seeing as ‘Either/Or’ is widely regarded as Elliott Smith’s masterpiece and a bonafide indie classic, it’s no surprise that there’s been a wide array of pressings of the album. With so many versions out there, it’s difficult to choose a definitive edition of the album. Completionists with plenty of patience and money may be best advised to hunt down both an original pressing and this Expanded Edition, as the remaster here definitely lends the album a different flavouring to the original issue. For most, however, one copy of the album will certainly be more than enough and the Kill Rock Stars version of ‘Either/Or Expanded Edition’ is such a well pressed, rich sounding version of the album that it’s easy to recommend it.