Elliott Smith has been a patron saint of the indie scene since his days helming Portland heroes Heatmiser. As a solo artist, his fondness for Beatlesque melody led to some of the most beautifully orchestrated pop of the last decade. This is his final recording, which found him returning to an edgier, guitar-driven sound, alongside his trademark heart-rending balladry.
MUZE Notes: Elliott Smith's death in 2003 left a cavernous hole in the world of popular music. Tender, intimate, and painfully honest, the songs in Smith's catalogue capture the fragility of human existence with rare, breathtaking beauty. On his first posthumous release, Smith reaffirms his status as an extraordinarily gifted artist, giving fans yet another reason to mourn his tragic loss. Conceived as an ambitious double album, FROM A BASEMENT ON THE HILL was ultimately narrowed down to 15 tracks by Smith's close friends, producer Rob Schnapf (Beck's MELLOW GOLD, Smith's X/O) and musician Joanna Bolme (the Minders, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks). The result is a heartbreaking collection of songs that plays like a retrospective of Smith's entire career. "Strung Out Again" reflects the early edge of ROMAN CANDLE; "Last Hour" recalls the bittersweet melodies of ELLIOTT SMITH; "A Fond Farewell" is a sad anthem in the tradition of EITHER/OR; "Shooting Star" employs the more polished sound of ! X/O; and "Don't Go Down" is an extension of the more electrified FIGURE 8. Of course, the most haunting aspect of FROM A BASEMENT ON THE HILL is the lyrical content, which is impossible to hear without placing it in the context of Smith's untimely passing.
Posthumous releases fall into two categories: those which the artist was working on at the time of their death, and those which are gathered from every nook and cranny to keep fans enthused and cash registers ringing. Elliott Smith's from a basement on the hill is of the former variety. It was close to completion at the time of his untimely death. Over the course of the set's 15 songs, Smith's powerful songwriting and production skills are shown in their full breadth. From thickly interlocked chordal guitar riffs ("Coast to Coast") to shimmering melancholia ("A Fond Farewell"), the songs are each brought to their own particular focus by whatever means were most appropriate. There are lush background vocals, keyboard washes, pounding rhythms, and heart rending balladry. This disc is a sad goodbye to richly emotive artist. --David Greenberger
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