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When American songwriter Elliott Smith was found dead a year ago, he'd almost completed work on his first album in nearly four years. From A Basement On The Hill is destined to build on Smith's iconic status, but it's hard to listen to it without the tragedy of his untimely death overwhelming the music.
From the opening track "Coast To Coast" it's clear that the listener is in for an emotional ride. The track opens with the chaotic sounds of ghostly voices before launching into a breathtaking sonic assault.
"Let's Get Lost" and "Twilight" are sublimely beautiful songs where Smith's voice almost cracks in its fragility. "Burning every bridge that I cross to find some beautiful place to get lost", is sung with heartbreaking poignancy.
The grungey "Strung Out Again" sees the singer in self-loathing mode, whilst "Pretty (Ugly Before)" mixes country-tinged sounds with his trademark stripped-down, lo-fi acoustic style. The powerful "Kings Crossing" is an expose of the music industry with Smith singing of the frustrated fireworks inside his head.
The final track "A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free" is my favourite on the album. It's a drugged-up symphony, full of disturbing fuzzed up, distorted guitars and strange sonics.
From A Basement On The Hill is possibly one of the saddest records ever made. With songs full of death, drugs, and destruction Smith's lyrics veer from love to loathing and from playful to poisonous at a moments notice. In one barbed aside he can easily switch from passion to vitriol.
Smith's music transcends the bland work of songwriters such as Damien Rice, Ryan Adams and David Gray - there's real emotion here.
On 21 October, 2003 Elliott Smith disappeared into the oblivion that had long threatened to swallow him up when he allegedly took a kitchen knife, and stabbed himself through the heart in one of the most brutal suicides in rock history.
His final album is a masterpiece of raw emotions, sublime melodies, and achingly beautiful lyrics. A fitting epitaph to a musical genius.