Elliott Smith's performance of the Oscar-nominated "Miss Misery" from the soundtrack to "Good Will Hunting" at last year's Academy Awards was one of the event's great oddball moments. Stringy-haired, dour and unrepentantly lo-fi, Smith's was a quirky presence amid Celine Dion and other assorted airbrushed celebs.
He is as quirky as ever on "XO." Smith doesn't push past his established borders. His instruments are guitar and the occasional drums, bass or piano accompanied by the odd, languid chorus of strings. His forbears include Dylan, The Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel. Thematically his oeuvre covers the same territory as your local coffee bar troubadour -- love, failure and regret. The difference is that songs such as "Waltz #2 (XO)," with its big yet understated chorus, or the quietly devastating "Pitseleh" make you wonder why anyone bothers with anything but the basics. Samplers or scathing guitar solos couldn't make for a more varied or better album.
Smith's genius is for nuance, cutting observations and unexpected transitions and harmonies -- a genius perfectly captured on "XO."