Review – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill Monday, Jul 13 2009 

For about two years in the early 00’s, it looked like indie rock would lose one of its biggest icons. This icon was Elliott Smith. Smith is one of those special artists that only come along once in awhile, who possesses a vast discography spanning many emotions and just as many genres while all remaining consistently fine-crafted. From the low-fi indie folk of his self-titled album to the grungy melancholy of Either/Or to the Lennon-esque pop of Figure 8, there is not an album in the Smith catalog that is exactly like another and, even more important, that isn’t a near perfect record. After gain mainstream attention after having his songs featured in Good Will Hunting and performing at the Oscars, it seemed for awhile that Smith was poised to take over the world. After the commercial failure of Figure 8, however, Smith descended into a world of drugs and depression, emerging only to play sloppy, uncomfortable shows, in which it was reported that he’d pass out in the middle of songs.

Fast forward to 2003 and rumors are swirling that Smith has gone to rehab and recovered from his drug addictions and was working on a double-disk album to be titled, From A Basement On the Hill. Unfortunately, Elliott Smith never got the chance to finish From A Basement the way he envisioned. On October 21st, 2003 Elliot Smith was found dead in his bathroom of two stab wounds to the chest. Whether the death was a disturbingly poetic suicide or a domestic dispute turned homocide has never been fully decided, leaving fans with unanswered questions about the rocks stars end. What we do have, however, is From A Basement, Smith’s first of two posthumous albums. Finished by his ex-girlfriend and producer and financed by his parents, From A Basement is a rarity, a posthumous album that is more than just merchandise to sell. It’s a fitting addition to the Smith catalog, harkening back to the days of Either/Or in themes while expanding his musical approach even further than it was used on his early albums.

The incomplete album is better than most finished records, spanning issues such as drug use, happiness, forgiveness, and Smith’s notable melancholy. The opening track, “Coast to Coast” is noisier than anything Smith experimented with on Either/Or. In his trademark high-pitch whisper, Smith dismisses the rumor mill in a song that is grimy, angry, but undeniably beautiful, mirroring Smith’s own life. Looking back at Smith’s self-titled record and songs like “Needle in Hay” and “Southern Belle”, it’s hard to imagine that one artist can have so many wonderfully different songs that somehow remain cohesive in nature. The same applies to From A Basement, which spans from strangely ambient experimental tracks (“King’s Crossing”) to more old-school Smith, stripped down guitar noodling (“Twilight”). It’s obvious that Smith was planning on making quite a grand comeback with this record. Songs like “Shooting Star” seem almost like they should be the beginning of an entirely new track in Smith’s career if it had not been tragically cut short. In a way, the record almost seems like a grand showcase of everything that is Elliott Smith. His drug abuse (“Strung Out Again”), his sensitivity (“Don’t Go Down”) and his ever-present, quiet optimism (“Pretty (Ugly Before)”) are all expounded throughout the entire record, making for us, the lucky fans, a fitting final collection of new material.

Overall rating: 9.3/10


Review – Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith Monday, Jul 13 2009 

The story of Elliott Smith is one of the most well known in indie rock. Through struggles with depression, drug addiction, and suicide attempts, Elliott Smith released some of the best albums ever seen in the singer/songwriter genre. Unfortunately, just when it appeared that he was getting his life back on track, he committed suicide (or was murdered). His fans were left with a wealth of music at their disposal, one of those albums being his second, self-titled album. Here, Smith struggles with his darkest demons. He often said that Elliott Smith is, lyrically, the darkest album of his career and for good reason.

The album opens up “Needle in the Hay.” One could only assume the song is semi-autobiographical as the protagonist searches around for a heroine fix. Drugs have always factored largely into Smith’s music and this album is no exception (“St. Ides Heaven”). Smith’s anger also takes a notable presence on this record, something that was seen less and less in his later music, On “Christian Brothers” and “Southern Belle”, Smith angrily calls out figures in his life he seems to hate bitterly. Through his trademark half-whispered delivery, Smith laces pop melodies over finger-strummed guitars, somehow making the acoustic guitar almost as cool as the grunge guitar. Surely, this is a trick he picked up from his days in the rock band Heatmiser, who were still recording music together by the time this album came out. In fact, it’s success is often attributed for the break up of the band.

The album is one of Smith’s best but you can clearly see the areas he needed improvement. At times, his melodies seemed aimless (“Good to Go”). He eventually cultured this into a sort of controlled chaos on his later records but here, it is a detriment. Overall, the album is a great one. Dark, gritty, and everything that is trademark Elliott Smith.

Overall rating: 8.1/10