Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Elliott Smith - From A Basement On A Hill

Elliott Smith's final album was released posthumously in 2004.  He was working on this right before his death and it couldn't be more different from his early work in the mid to late nineties.  It's a sprawling, 15 track affair, opening with Coast to Coast, which lays down a marker that things here are... different.  It opens with slightly off electric guitars, almost playing on top of each other.  On this track Smith sounds woozy, yet the music is largely energised, belying the sadness of the lyrics - "anything that I could do would never be good enough for you".  As the track's final seconds ebb away, we here dislocated babble, which adds to the overall weirdness of the track.

For those who prefer Smith at his simplest, fear not.  Let's Get Lost is a classic simple guitar ditty with dreams of escaping ("find some beautiful place to get lost"), yet self-loathing permeates this track ("I had true love, I made it die, I pushed her away").  Later, The Last Hour and Memory Lane have a similar stripped-down feel.  But the order of the day here is weariness, and tracks like Pretty (Ugly Before), Don't Go Down and Strung Out Again have this in spades, in a sort of late 60s Beatles kind of way.

A Fond Farewell is a kind of 'more-filled out' version of the unadorned Elliott Smith sound, and is quite pleasing to the ears.  On the other hand, the Christmas-themed King's Crossing is largely unsettling, with its bursts of static-tiinged instrumentation and Smith's ghoulish proclamation ("give me one good reason not to do it").  Later, Shooting Star is as close as Smith gets here to sprawling, messy rock.  That's just a handful of the fifteen tracks contained here.  It's not the tacky cash-in one might fear, but a worthy line drawn under Elliott Smith's musical career.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Songs: Ohia - The Lioness

For Jason Molina's fourth album as Songs: Ohia, The Lioness, he decamped to Scotland and recorded with Alasdair Roberts and David Gow and Aidan Moffat from Arab Strap.  The results were released in 2000, and from the opening chords of The Black Crow it's clear things his outlook has darkened a little.  Molina sings a long, bleak tale of dead crows and getting weaker over simple, descending chords. The track builds gradually, developing into a pounding rhythm towards the end.  Tigress shows that he can still do slinky, and this one harks back to previous albums like Impala or Axxess & Ace.  The sound of the album is pretty consistent throughout, tracks like Nervous Bride, Coxcomb Red and the title track work as a song cycle, rather than a bunch of songs just bundled together.  Being In Love sounds like it's using one of Arab Strap's drum machines as Molina sings "being in love means you are completely broken".  Later, Back On Top and Baby Take A Look are two of the sparser, slower moments here, with echoes of Smog thoughout both.

Definitely stronger than its predecessors, The Lioness shows a major leap forward Jason Molina, setting him up for future, fuller albums.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Robert Forster - Warm Nights

Robert Forster's fourth solo album was released in 1996.  It's quite the groovy affair kicking off with the slinky pairing of I Can Do and the title track, which feature some great guitar soloing from what could be Edwyn Collins (he's credited on the sleeve).  Cryin' Love is more of a vocal tour de force, a sort of arch, egotistical ballad where Forster sings about how "he cannot be as good looking as me", while Snake Skin Lady is slower, a picked acoustic track harking back to his Danger In The Past material with a hint of Springsteen.

Further into the album it gets more uneven.  Songs like Jug of Wine, Fortress and Rock n Roll Friend are fairly ordinary.  However the album finishes with two decent songs, the sparse, acoustic guitar and cello combination of On A Street Corner, and I'll Jump - a jerky yet relaxed guitar song.  I'd say this one is positioned oddly on the album, it doesn't sound like a closing track on an album, more like track 2 or 3.  Like some of his best material, the album sounds like nothing initially but gradually grows on you...