Day 237 – #115. Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill

Elliott Smith - From a Basement on the Hill Album Review

This one is heavy.

I should preface what I’m about to say by telling you this: I’m always cautious as to what I put on the Internet, because of the inevitable fallout and never being able to retract it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s for this reason that I am terrified of Anonymous, 4chan and Reddit.

Somehow though, using this project as a vehicle has made it easier for me to open up and get a little bit more personal. Forcing myself to write every day has put me in the position of hurdles to overcome to get a post out. This is not strictly a project of “music reviews,” but rather my own personal take on a particular album on that day.

In the middle of a yearlong endeavor like One Record Per Day, life has happened. Shocking, right? And in undertaking a daily writing project like this, I had to decide between talking about the album specifically or attempting to somewhere work in what happened on that day, if it was a big enough deal. But time and time again, somehow, in some way, there were albums that matched that day’s mood and temperament in a way I couldn’t explain.

There have been highs: being interviewed live on YouTube by the Old Spice marketing Wolfdog, reconciling my feelings about Showbread’s Age of Reptiles in essay form (which turned out to be the highest traffic day of the whole year), and Tim Kasher calling my irreverent March Madness-style tournament bracket for 68 Cursive songs “intense and fun.”

There have been lows: namely, getting robbed in Miami. I’m grateful to report that was the lowest of the lows. Though, I did I graduate in May, only to face 3 solid months of sending a resume into various employment black holes. Blah blah, economy blah.

But put in the perspective of a family member’s sudden passing, the intrinsic, arbitrary value we place on those things is stripped away in an instant. My uncle passed away unexpectedly yesterday. I’m older than his two kids, my cousins. I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now. As I write this, one is out of the country. Can you even contemplate having to fly from Europe back to the states when your father has passed?

Interesting, then, and also quite somber that today’s record is Elliott’s Smith final and posthumous release, From a Basement on the Hill. Smith also committed suicide, and it will be 10 years ago this October. I think it was as much of a shock to the music community as Jeff Buckley’s drowning, and as someone who had already been listening to him for a number of years, it hit home.

This is a profoundly sad album, with songs about drug addiction and disconnection from real life. It’s one that is especially difficult to wade through after my uncle’s passing. It’s well accepted that Smith’s music is for the melancholy. Sometimes, though, it’s good to embrace it just for a spell to aid the grieving process. In doing so, the intensity of Smith’s words are much more easily tapped into. Of course, it makes songs like “A Fond Farewell” and “Twilight” that much more difficult to hear.

I think I appreciate From a Basement on the Hill more than Smith’s other works because it was unfinished at the time of his death. If he were to have completed the album before his passing, or lived on to release more music, maybe that connection would have been lost or diminished. I mean, songs like “The Last Hour” and “Little One” are so raw, both in the emotional and literal sense. They both feel like the earliest possible recordings, as if the songs were so fresh and new that Smith felt he had to get them from the paper to tape immediately, the words jumping off the page and into the ears of his audience with, as it turns out, no filter in between.

The album is unique in that way: some songs still fresh enough to be mere seedlings, but others in a more polished state, like my favorite, “King’s Crossing,” or opener “Coast to Coast.”

Even though I wasn’t especially close to my uncle, losing a loved one isn’t easy, no matter the circumstances. From a Basement on the Hill is bleak, but shows that, even in the face of so much uncertainty and loss, it’s comforting to know that, though we can’t see it now, time will repair what is broken.

From the first of two albums following Elliott Smith’s death, this is “A Fond Farewell” –

Standout tracks: “Coast to Coast,” “King’s Crossing,” “Twilight” and “Shooting Star”
Weakest track: “A Passing Feeling”

RIYL: Acoustic singer-songwriters. Kevin Devine, Jeff Buckley.



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