Elliott Smith, whose Miss Misery landed him an Oscar nomination after it appeared in the film Good Will Hunting, returns to the land of lost dreams, symphonic sketches, and lonesome melodies on Figure 8.
The typically disheveled songwriter brings together many different worlds here, melding alt-rock and singer-songwriter sensibilities. Combining detachment and grace, Figure 8 is almost equally divided between full band, pop-based fare like "Junk Bond Trader" and "Son of Sam" and much lighter acoustic tracks such as "Easy Way Out" and "I Better Be Quiet Now."
He'll never be accused of overflowing with joy, but Smith's harmonies are sweet, and the exceptional production of Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf adds strength to some otherwise stark soundscapes. There's true beauty in the way Smith's voice weaves around the parlor-styled piano in the hypnotic "Everything Means Nothing to Me," and splendor in the way "Can't Make a Sound" evolves from a hushed acoustic tale into a steady-building, slide-backed rock 'n' roll symphony.
There are times, especially late in the album, where Smith risks lulling the listener too close to dreamland. But more often than not he exhibits substance to spare, while further enhancing his reputation as one of the real rising stars on the pop scene.