The Cinderella-esque climb from lo-fi indie cult artist to Grammy nominee/major label darling must have been a perilous one for Smith, who makes the leap to the big time here after three well-regarded albums on small labels. He's lost none of his bite, though. The production values on XO may be slightly higher, but Smith's vision remains undiluted. The production, centred around acoustic guitar augmented by keyboards and lush vocal harmonies, recalls pop icons like the Beach Boys (especially on the closing acapella cut), Beatles and Big Star, but this is no sunny Cali-pop album. Leavening the instrumental brightness are Smith's Nick Drake-ish whisper and his thoroughly downcast lyrics, which cast him squarely in the Mark Eitzel/Smog camp of unrelenting self-effacement and misery. The combination of Smith's internal angst and his melodic pop constructions makes for a compelling artistic tension.