Regretfully, I was only a passive fan of Elliott Smith at the time of his death. Since then, Figure 8 and XO have become mainstays in my stereo. With From A Basement on the Hill, we have an album that is bittersweet, as charming as it is saddening. As in the case with Joe Strummer's Streetcore, it's nearly impossible to look at the posthumous release with complete objectivity. This is the last album we'll ever get from Elliott Smith, and for that reason alone it had already won me over.
Smith seemed to distance himself in so many ways that his music always carried a sense of intimacy. After listening to his albums, you either felt like you knew him all the better or didn't know him at all. Granted, From A Basement on the Hill is not as strong as Figure 8 and XO, but Smith's soft, wistful vocals are as graceful and chilling as ever, offering that same intimate, personal touch. Somehow, Smith created music that was the perfect melancholy-inspired pop, depressing as hell but uplifting in the sense that somehow, you could relate to some of his songs. From A Basement on the Hill is a rather simplistic album, keeping in line with what Smith had already introduced and incorporating few new qualities, which, if you're a fan of his work, is just fine. Although a posthumous effort, the tracks were essentially finished before his death, resulting in an album with a solid, fluid arrangement. Overall, the album seems less polished with more of a raw feel, especially on the rock tracks like the opener "Coast to Coast". Smith is still at his best though when it's just his melancholy voice compliment a soft guitar, as shown on "Twilight", a track that has quickly become my favorite on the album (along with the Lennon inspired "Strung Out Again"). The disc maintains a certain element of diversity throughout, showing the full array of what Smith was capable of.
From A Basement on the Hill won't be remembered as one of Smith's best albums, but even after his death Smith has released an album that is one of the best depressing pop albums of the year. It's not the perfect album to remember his career by, but nonetheless, it's a warm goodbye to an artist that has inspired so many people.
by Elliot Cole