'I'm never gonna know you now, but I'm gonna love you anyhow.'
Elliott Smith's songs often feel like rehearsals for eulogies. The sense of despair in his music is such a palpable thing, with an almost physical weight, yet there is a communal sense to it as well, a friendly misery. Those who have little history with depression may not understand it, but there is something comforting in depressive art, a shared experience that makes it all a little easier to take. I feel like Elliott Smith is these days the patron saint of loneliness and the isolation that his music communicates is richly affective. At my lowest moments, for years now, his music is always the best comfort. Unlike, say, the claustrophobic, crushing despair of Joy Division, Elliott's music is companionable, like an embrace.
XO represents the moment when, unaccountably, Elliott Smith became something close to a pop star, thanks in no small part to Good Will Hunting featuring several of his songs. Musically, the album is sweeter and brighter than his earlier work, nothing like the raw nerves of "Needle in the Hay" but with more of a sighing resignation underneath everything. This is especially manifest in "Sweet Adeline" as it transitions from the shuffle of acoustic guitar with an enormous Beatlesque roll. "Waltz # 2" (essentially the title track) is practically definitive, a quiet character sketch, dancing back and forth on the idea of knowing someone and at once their being unknowable, of the unfathomable distance between people, always hiding behind a facade that things are going well. Much of this album seems to track fleeting moments of personal connection with strangers, clutching to them. I know too well that feeling of placing great importance in the warmth of chance encounters while being unable to reconcile with the hollowness of shielded interaction with all the people who know you well. That honesty of emotion is what makes this slickly produced breakthrough album still deeply intimate.
It wrecks me, every time.