Elliott Smith's death really saddenned me, as he was one of my very favourite artists. Apart from Figure 8, which was a huge disappointment, I have loved every record he has released. From the brute nudity of Roman Candle and Elliott Smith (his darkest jewel), to the barstool warmth of Either/Or (probably his best record) to the 60s luxury of XO. Comfort is easy to find in his songs, turning pop into a deeply intimate medium.
I was quite hopeful about From a Basement on the Hill, despite rumours, how he couldn't play his songs properly at shows anymore, addictions and his getting dropped by Dreamworks. I was hoping that Figure 8 was only a misstep and, well, it sounds like i was right.
From a Basement on the Hill sounds like all of his records put together in a jar. It was produced by Smith himself and finalized by old-time friends Rob Schnapf and Joana Bolme after his death. "Coast to Coast," "Don't Go Down" and especially "King's Crossing" are impressively produced, sounding better than all of his post Either/Or songs, showing a clear evolution towards more ambitious arrangements. "Don't Go Down" is Smith's heaviest song in his repertoire, with loud guitars, loud drums and impressive tightness. Other songs are reminiscent of the XO-Figure 8 era, as far as sound is concerned. Songs are brilliant, tight -"Let's Get Lost," "Strung Out Again," and "Shooting Star"- or more laid back -"Pretty (Ugly Before)," "A Fond Farewell," "A Passing Feeling," "Memory Lane," and "Little One"- but always touching and meaningful like his early work. Aside from "King's Crossing" (an impressive highlight to me) another favourite is "Twilight" which could have been on any of his first three records, had he recorded it then. "Last Hour" is also reminiscent of his early work, lo-fi, sincere and warm.
The album closes with an impressively dark piece, "A Distorted Reality is a Necessity to Be Free," an insight into Smith's relationship with drugs ("I'm floating like a black balloon/ OD on easter afternoon/ my momma told me stay clean/ there's no in between") and a "leave me alone" message to his family and his friends, featuring an overwhelming chorus ("shine on me baby/ cause it's raining in my heart") sung with a tight, heartbreaking voice.
Far from nourishing tabloids, aside from "A Distorted Reality," this record shows a confused but somehow appeased Smith, with much better songs than Figure 8, and more importantly, with the bare intimacy that made his work compelling from the first start. Somehow it makes me feel really good to know that this record is great.
/nov 1st 2004/