Elliott Smith Figure 8

Elliott Smith fans won't be disappointed with Figure 8, the follow-up to his 1998 Dreamworks debut, XO. All of the key Smith ingredients are here - sugary sad harmonies accompanied by a quietly comforting acoustic guitar, interlaced with spurts of defiant piano, along with just the right sprinkle of orchestral strings and marching drum beats. In fact, it doesn't deviate much from the XO formula. However, it does mark a bolder attempt by Smith to refine his sound in the studio, stepping further away from the simplistic beauty of his Kill Rock Stars (Elliot Smith and Either/Or) and Cavity/Search (Roman Candles) recordings. The usual desolate and melancholy mood of his songs have been peppered with more pronounced piano chords and noisier electric guitar licks. The phrase "progressive piano rock" comes to mind. The opening track, "Son of Sam," will creep up on you just like the infamous '70s serial killer of the '70s once did. "Everything Means Nothing To Me" starts out quietly then crashes into an unnecessary crescendo of chorus repetition, keyboards and drum rolls. "Somebody That I Used To Know" and "Everything Reminds Me of Her" are classic Smith, intimately personal one-on-one songs of love and hate. It's apparent the recent transplant from the cement jungle of Brooklyn to sunny L.A. has been a metamorphic experience for Smith. All in all, Figure 8 sounds like the notoriously shy one is breaking out of his existential shell - and in Hollywood of all places. (Dreamworks)