Elliott Smith, From A Basement On The Hill

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

From A Basement On The Hill

Elliott Smith
Perfect blown-glass melodies topped with Smith’s confessional singing voice

News flash: Elliott Smith's first posthumous album is not a 15-song suicide note, and it's a lot more meaningful if you don't try to hear it that way. Drawn from a three-year pile of recordings he'd left mostly finished at the time of his death, it's actually one of his least despairing records — or, rather, despair's something he's recognizing from a distance. "Pretty (Ugly Before)" is a song about realizing that he's not in a bad psychological place anymore; "Don't Go Down" is a portrait of someone "hard and as cracked as the Liberty Bell" that he's trying to pull up into the sunlight. It's not like he'd given up on the drunken dark nights of the soul that were his great subject, but he'd realized that his strengths weren't the ways he could articulate dissolution, they were his perfect, fragile, blown-glass melodies and his murmuring, confessional singing voice. From a Basement. . . is also his most inventively produced album, tremulous and un-slick in a way his records had rarely been since the early years, but full of subtle, fleeting textures and details — not much on it quite sounds like a loner with a guitar, or a star with a band. He had a lot left to say.