By Matt Parks
In the three years following the release of 2000’s ‘Figure 8,’ Elliot Smith struggled with what was to be his final album, parting ways with both his label and his longtime producer Rob Schnapf during that time. In the last few years of his life, in addition to recording extensively on home equipment, Smith worked with a number of producers, including Jon Brion and David McConnell, but at the time of Elliot Smith’s death in October of 2003, there was no final track sequence and only a few finished completed mixes for the tracks that became ‘from a basement on a hill.’
When Smith is at his best, one feels him as a sort of secret sharers—lending a voice to elusive, private, and painful things of which you and I will not speak.How close an approximation of Smith’s ultimate intentions these songs (the album’s mixing was completed by Schnapf and Smith’s former girlfriend Joanna Bolme) are is open to debate—McConnell, for one, has gone on record saying Smith “did not get his wishes”—but, despite the possibility that ‘Basement’ may not be everything it might have been had Smith lived to see the album through to its completion, Smith’s new album is both harrowing and seductive.
Clearly ‘Basement’ is the work an exhaustingly talented artist attempting to somehow reconcile the tormented, breathy, thousand-yard stare loner rock of Smith’s first three albums with the less intimate, painstakingly-crafted Beatlesque detail of the two albums he later recorded for Dreamworks. But, despite its radical incongruities, ‘From a Basement on a Hill’ is a hauntingly affecting album that never settles for comfortable . . . either for the listener or for the performer.
Playlist—“A Fond Farewell,” “A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to be Free,” “Let’s Get Lost,” King’s Crossing”