Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Elliott Smith’s 1997 release, Either/Or, strikes the perfect balance between the stripped-down acoustic recordings of his early career and the more fleshed-out arrangements that he would later explore. It doesn’t hurt that the album contains some of his most memorable melodies as well.

With its near-whispered vocals and dark lyrics, Elliott Smith’s music has always had a personal, headphone-music quality to it—you don’t see many summer barbecue mixes blaring tracks like “2:45 AM.” As a result, the best covers of his songs tend not to stray far from the singer-recording-in-his-bedroom model, but we’ve also included some of the more adventurous interpretations of his work.

Knock-Knock – Speed Trials
Knock-Knock re-imagines Either/Or’s opening cut as a moody trip-hop track, complete with a banjo solo. Better than that description makes it sound.

Beck – Alameda
Recorded live at a memorial show just after Smith’s death, Beck lays down a tribute that, while missing some lyrics, is full of emotion. Falls on the dark and mellow end of the multidimensional spectrum of Beck’s output, similar in sound to what he explored on his 2002 album, Sea Change.

The Foxymorons – Ballad of Big Nothing
This alt-country rendition features classic three-part harmonies and finger-licking guitar playing, highlighting the upbeat music/downcast lyrics dichotomy that Smith explored throughout his discography.

Madeleine Peyroux – Between the Bars
Smoky, jazzy, and sultry, Madeleine Peyroux’s cover provides a taste of what Smith’s music might have sounded like if he were performing at clubs in the 1940s. Despite the change of genre, Peyroux wonderfully captures the haunting and intimate qualities of the original.

Grant Buell – Pictures of Me
This piano instrumental brings out the pounding rhythm of the original. Really pounding. I imagine Buell iced his fingers for a couple hours after recording this one.

Sam Coe – No Name No. 5
Coe moves Smith’s drony acoustic guitar part to a deep, downtuned electric guitar, and fills out the song with a ’60s-nodding mellotron part. Vocally, Coe does his best Elliott impression with whispered, double-tracked singing. Spot-on in recreating the atmosphere of the original.

Terence Bernardo – Rose Parade
Bernardo takes one of Smith’s most cheerful guitar riffs and adds a watery synth and trebly drum loop to the mix. Cool reverb-drenched harmonies in the chorus. Doesn’t stray too far from the original, but definitely an enjoyable listen.

Irving Kat – Punch and Judy
Mostly straightforward cover from a fan-made tribute album. The solo is…creative.

Jump Clubb – Angeles
On this ready-for-the-floor rendition, Jump Clubb replaces the original’s swift fingerpicking with arpeggiated synths and thumping bass. Echoey, mysterious vocals pay tribute to the original’s distinct moodiness. Doesn’t sound like it should work, but one of the most interesting covers in the group.

Lou Barlow – Cupid’s Trick
The Dinosaur Jr./Sebadoh member picks Either/Or’s loudest, most rocking track and gives it a perfectly noisy and fuzzed out live treatment. Props to Barlow for doing his best with Smith’s lyrics for the track, which were notoriously never printed.

Malfunction Robot – 2:45 AM
If you’ve ever wondered what “2:45 AM” would sound like with jazz chords, a spacey reverb piano, and a bizarre drum loop, then this is the song for you.  If you haven’t, then you’re on your own here.

Ben Folds – Say Yes
Just Folds and the piano. Perfectly captures the simple beauty and hopeful optimism of the original.

Don’t own the original? Pick it up at Amazon, iTunes, or your local record store. Also, check out more Elliott Smith covers in our archive.

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7 Responses to “Full Albums: Elliott Smith’s Either/Or”

Comments (5) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Sean says:

    Ben Folds is 404′d. But Madeleine Peyroux is the best!

  2. Sarah says:

    Great post – thanks! – but Ben Folds is broken…

  3. boyhowdy says:

    Keep waiting for the Ben Folds – you guys reading this?

  4. Ray Padgett says:

    Sorry about that! Fixed.

  5. despina says:

    i’m not sure how i feel about the dance rendition of “angeles”, but madeleine peyroux definitely makes “between the bars” stand out, just as it stands out in the original. i love the idea of elliott’s songs being covered by female performers and metric’s cover of “between the bars” is another example. less surprising but still interesting.

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