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.