Either/Or (album)

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Studio album by
ReleasedFebruary 25, 1997 (1997-02-25)
StudioVarious (see below)
LabelKill Rock Stars
Elliott Smith chronology
Elliott Smith
Singles from Either/Or
  1. "Speed Trials"
    Released: October 1, 1996
  2. "Ballad of Big Nothing"
    Released: June 28, 1998

Either/Or is the third studio album by American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Either/Or was recorded in several locations, mostly in Portland, Oregon – while Smith was still a member of Heatmiser – and was produced by Smith, Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf. Either/Or was released on February 25, 1997, on the Kill Rock Stars record label, following Heatmiser's dissolution. Book-ended by its two singles, "Speed Trials" and "Ballad of Big Nothing", Either/Or did not chart in the US, but was acclaimed by critics.

Director Gus Van Sant was highly impressed with the album, incorporating three of its songs; "Between the Bars", "Angeles" and "Say Yes" along with a new song, "Miss Misery", into the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. "Miss Misery" was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1998 Academy Awards, and was performed at the televised ceremony in an abridged version by Smith, backed by the house orchestra, briefly propelling him into the international spotlight.


Either/Or was recorded at several locations: Joanna Bolme's house; Smith's own house; Undercover, Inc.; Laundry Rules Recording; and the Heatmiser House – all in Portland, Oregon – as well as The Shop in Arcata, California. The album was produced by Smith, Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf.[2]

Smith wrote and recorded a song entitled "Either/Or" during the sessions for this album, but it was not included on the final release; however, the song was later included on New Moon, a posthumous compilation of previously unreleased material by Smith.


The album's title derives from the Søren Kierkegaard book of the same name, in which "either/or" refers to the contrast between aesthetic/subjective experience and ethical/objective being. This existential title is reflective of Smith's interest in philosophy, which he studied at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.[3]

The album's style has been described as "a bridge between the lo-fi darkness of Roman Candle and Elliott Smith and the studio sheen of XO and Figure 8."[4]


The album's first single, "Speed Trials", was released on October 1, 1996.[5]

Either/Or was released on February 25, 1997.[6] It did not chart in the US.[7] The album's second and final single, "Ballad of Big Nothing", was released on June 29, 1998.[8]

Smith would briefly be cast into the international spotlight early the following year when he performed his song, the 1997 standalone single "Miss Misery", at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony, following the song's appearance in the major motion picture Good Will Hunting and its subsequent Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Following this appearance, Smith was signed to major label DreamWorks and started work on his fourth studio album, XO.

As of March, 2017, Either/Or is Elliott Smith's best selling release (it still has never charted) and has sold 429,000 copies in United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. [9]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[10]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[11]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[12]
Mojo5/5 stars[13]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide3.5/5 stars[16]
Uncut4/5 stars[19]

Either/Or was acclaimed by critics upon its release, placing at number 20 in the 1997 end-of-year Pazz & Jop poll.[20] Stephen Thompson of The A.V. Club wrote that the album "marks something of a thematic transition" for Smith, noting "brightness and a pop feel" on Either/Or in contrast to the "stark, guy-with-acoustic-guitar confessionals about drug abuse and darkness" on Elliott Smith.[21]

In its retrospective review, Tiny Mix Tapes opined: "Simply put, the songs on Either/Or are Elliott Smith's best".[4] Trouser Press called it "even more fully realized" than Elliott Smith.[22]


The album inspired Gus Van Sant to invite Smith to contribute to the soundtrack of the film Good Will Hunting. Three Either/Or tracks were incorporated into the soundtrack, as well as a new song, "Miss Misery." Smith was briefly pushed to the forefront of popular culture after performing "Miss Misery" from Good Will Hunting at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony.

Online magazine Pitchfork ranked Either/Or 59th in its list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1990s.[23] Spin ranked Either/Or at number 48 on its list of the best albums from 1987 to 2012.[24] Blender ranked it thirty-sixth in its "100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums Ever" list.[25] In 2013, NME placed Either/Or at number 149 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[26] Consequence of Sound ranked the album #97 on their list of best albums ever.[27]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Elliott Smith.

1."Speed Trials"3:01
3."Ballad of Big Nothing"2:48
4."Between the Bars"2:21
5."Pictures of Me"3:46
6."No Name No. 5"3:43
7."Rose Parade"3:28
8."Punch and Judy"2:25
10."Cupid's Trick"3:04
11."2:45 AM"3:18
12."Say Yes"2:19


  • Elliott Smith – all instruments, mixing ("Alameda", "No Name No. 5", "Rose Parade", "2:45 AM")
  • Joanna Bolme – mixing ("Alameda"), back cover photography
  • Rob Schnapf – mixing ("Speed Trials", "Ballad of Big Nothing", "Between the Bars", "Pictures of Me", "Punch and Judy", "Angeles", "Cupid's Trick", "Say Yes")
  • Tom Rothrock – mixing ("Speed Trials", "Ballad of Big Nothing", "Between the Bars", "Pictures of Me", "Punch and Judy", "Angeles", "Cupid's Trick", "Say Yes")
  • Larry Crane – recording ("Pictures of Me")
  • Don C. Tyler – mastering
  • Neil Gust – sleeve layout
  • Debbie Pastor – front cover photography


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[31] Silver 60,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ Vaziri, Aidin (January 13, 2013). "Review: Luke Sweeney, 'Ether Ore'". SFGate. San Francisco. Retrieved September 1, 2016.
  2. ^ Either/Or (Media notes). Elliott Smith. Kill Rock Stars. 1997. Retrieved June 16, 2013.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. ^ "UTR – Issue 4". Under the Radar. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Brusie, David (February 27, 2009). "Elliott Smith – Either/Or". Tiny Mix Tapes. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  5. ^ "Speed Trials 7" | Kill Rock Stars". killrockstars.bandcamp.com. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  6. ^ "Either / Or | Kill Rock Stars". killrockstars.bandcamp.com. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  7. ^ "Elliott Smith – Chart History | Billboard". billboard.com. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  8. ^ "The Ballad of Big Nothing – Elliott Smith". AllMusic. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  9. ^ Caulfield, Keith (22 March 2018). "Billboard 200 Chart Moves: 'Trolls' Soundtrack Hits Half-Million Sales, Elliott Smith's 'Either/Or' Debuts". Billboard. Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  10. ^ Cater, Darryl. "Either/Or – Elliott Smith". AllMusic. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  11. ^ Kot, Greg (April 4, 1997). "Elliott Smith: Either/Or (Kill Rock Stars)". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  12. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  13. ^ Segal, Victoria (April 2017). "Tinseltown in the rain". Mojo (281): 102.
  14. ^ Bailie, Stuart (May 30, 1998). "Elliott Smith – Either/Or". NME. Archived from the original on August 17, 2000. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  15. ^ LeMay, Matt (March 7, 2017). "Elliott Smith: Either/Or". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
  16. ^ Berger, Arion (2004). "Elliott Smith". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 750–51. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  17. ^ Perry, Andrew (July 1998). "Elliott Smith: Either/Or". Select (97): 86.
  18. ^ Huston, Johnny (March 1997). "Elliott Smith: Either/Or / The Softies: Winter Pageant". Spin. 12 (12): 102–04. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  19. ^ "Elliott Smith: Either/Or". Uncut: 114. Either/Or took the small arranging step needed to turn Smith's beautifully, harmonically sly but still then mostly self-accompanied tunes into indisputable pop.
  20. ^ "The 1997 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. February 24, 1998. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  21. ^ Thompson, Stephen (March 29, 2002). "Elliott Smith: Either/Or". The A.V. Club. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  22. ^ Azerrad, Michael; Robbins, Ira. "Heatmiser". Trouser Press. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
  23. ^ "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1990s". Pitchfork Media. November 17, 2003. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  24. ^ "125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years". Spin. February 15, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2013.
  25. ^ "Blender's 100 Greatest Indie-Rock Albums Ever – Stereogum". Stereogum. November 14, 2007. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
  26. ^ "The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time: 200–101". NME. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  27. ^ "Consequence of Sound's Top 100 Albums Ever". 15 September 2010.
  28. ^ ""Listen to Unreleased Elliott Smith Song "I Figured You Out" From New Either/Or Reissue"". Pitchfork.com. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  29. ^ ""Either/Or – Elliott Smith"". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  30. ^ "Elliott Smith – Alternate Versions From Either/Or". Discogs. Zink Media. Retrieved 19 August 2019.
  31. ^ "British album certifications – Elliott Smith – Either/or". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Either/or in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.

External links[edit]