Sixth LP from the Late Elliott Smith (Anti, 19 October 2004)
This is it. From a Basement on the Hill, a posthumous collection of previously unreleased material, is Elliott Smith's final testament to his fans, his music, his world. Smith's suicide in late October two years ago threw ice on his musical genius. Though he has written more than enough sad songs for a lifetime, in much of Smith's work, I've found hope and inspiration. There is no hope in From a Basement on the Hill, only desperation. If nothing else, this album is "a fond farewell"—a portrait of a torn psyche and sunken spirit saying goodbye.
Compared to Smith's other (relatively) recent releases (XO and Figure 8, both heavily produced) From a Basement on the Hill is rough around the edges, yet lacking the vitality of his earlier work (Either/Or in particular). While the album does have its share of musical misfires, it's not all bad. Nonetheless, this is a difficult album for me to accept. I have trouble holding it up against albums like Either/Or and Figure 8. Both of those albums are filled with songs that comforted me when it seemed like my life was falling apart. That is to say, From a Basement on the Hill is a fine album, but it doesn't hold a spot in the section reserved for heartbroken nostalgia in my record collection.
From a Basement on the Hill feels sublime to me, in the sense that Smith is singing about the things that drove him to commit suicide. Why didn't he see hope in continuing the struggle? Elliott tells us. He makes a fragile concession in "Pretty (Ugly Before)" that gives substance to the deepest passions of the album in four lines. He was lost.
Sunshine, been keeping me up for days
There is no night time, it's only a passing phase
And I feel pretty, pretty enough for you
I felt so ugly before, I didn't know what to do
This is the strongest song on the album, hands down. The guitar is crystalline and playful, disguising the self-deprecating sorrow of the lyrics, until the weight of their meaning sinks in; this is the still, sad music of humanity. Other notable tracks include "A Fond Farewell", "King's Crossing", "Memory Lane" and "Little One".
- Tracks -
coast to coast - let's get lost - pretty (ugly before)
don't go down - strung out again - a fond farewell
king's crossing - ostriches & chirping - twilight
a passing feeling - last hour - shooting star
memory lane - little one
a distorted reality is now a necessity to be free
- Production Notes -
the following is written, performed, produced and recorded by elliott smith.
recorded at new monkey, satellite park, audobahn recording, sunset sound, cherokee recording, fort apache, two beers & everybody sings, chateau brion, elliott's homes in portland and los angeles.
additional recording by fritz michaud, jon brion, tom biller, matthew ellard, andrew beckman, chris chandler, ryan castle, david mcconnell, dee robb, valente torres, pete magdaleno.
mixed by rob schnapf, assisted by joanna bolme. mastered by ted jensen at sterling sound, new york.
steven drodz and aaron sperske played drums and nelson gary spoke on "coast to coast" sam coomes played bass and sang backup, scott mcpherson played drums, and aaron embry played keyboards on "pretty (ugly before)" fritz michaud played a drum track on "king's crossing" apologies and thanks to anyone omitted.
design by nick pritchard for metrosea.com, cover photo by renaud monfourny booklet photos by paul heartfield (page four), dominic disaia (page 9), ashley welch (page 10). cut out type by autumn dewilde, handwritten font by elliott smith.
final production by elliott's family and friends.