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Elliott Smith
From A BAsement On The Hill
Anti Records
www.elliottsmith.com


Perhaps it is most fitting that I review this new posthumous collection of songs from the departed Elliott Smith in a frame of mind that befits the tragic end of said singer. Simply put, I'm having a real sad day, and could probably do best with a trip to the pub for a pint. Instead, I'll sit here and try to get through this review and make some sort of constructive use of my mean energies.

Everyone who needs to know knows that Elliott Smith graced the world with a few tremendous records in the decade or so before his demise. Either/Or, XO, and Figure 8 were all critically acclaimed, and rightfully so. They were extremely well put together albums filled with amazing and complex songs that were full of more heart than the popular music community had seen in quite a while. Unfortunately for those of us who were in on the good things, we lost Mr. Smith back in 2003. The good news was that he had been working on a follow-up record and had made good progress in the recordings. His family has generously consented to, and actually pushed forward, this project in the hopes of giving the world the last music that Elliott had been working on. God bless them.

The songs on from a basement on the hill are full of the charm and beauty that we had come to expect from Smith, and there are very few clues that would lead to the conclusion that we all know he had come to in the end. There is a deep melancholy in the music, but there was always a melancholia in the songs of Smith, so that is certainly nothing new. There is the same clean sense of purpose in these songs that can be found on his previous records, and the same clean guitar lines and softly lilting melody lines. If one closes his eyes and sits and just listens to the music, one can forget all the pain in the world - and all the pain that we now know was being bottled up inside the man - and just enjoy the musical ride.

There is a lulling sense to these songs; A sense that the world is a wonderful and glorious place full of beauty and small joys. Which is not to say that there is only serenity and peace to be found on these recordings. There are moments of gloriously orchestrated cacophony ("Don't Go Down") and oddly off kilter words and rhythms ("King's Crossing"). The song titles, when read through and looked at with the understanding of where these songs were headed for Smith, are the truly overwhelming and somewhat haunting aspect of this record.

If you read through the titles, think about Smith's infamous death, and then listen with that spirit inside your head, you will find the album a bit unsettling. Like a majority of people find Pink Floyd's The Wall an exercise in madness and depression, that road will undoubtedly lead you to the same conclusion about from a basement on the hill. But if you can clear your mind and listen to this record from a distance, as if through a window in a cottage on a hill in a meadow with a soft breeze blowing, I believe you will find these songs to be less daunting and more comforting… like wrapping yourself in a much needed down comforter, while nursing a nice cup of tea on a dark, cold winter's day. God keep you, Elliott.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:

1. Coast To Coast
2. Let's Get Lost
3. Pretty (Ugly Before)
4. Don't Go Down
5. Strung Out Again
6. A Fond Farewell
7. King's Crossing
8. Ostrich And Chirping
9. Twilight
10. A Passing Feeling
11. The Last Hour
12. Shooting Star
13. Memory Lane
14. Little One
15. A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free


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Mike Doughty



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