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Phases & Stages

Record review

Reviewed by Darcie Stevens, November 12, 2004, Music

Elliott Smith

From a Basement on the Hill (Anti-)

"I haven't laughed this hard in a long time. Better stop now before I start crying." The line between Everyman and Elliott Smith has thickened with the passing of time. Now, two days short of the anniversary of his untimely death, From a Basement on a Hill arrives, postmarked last fall. Not a suicide note or coded message prompting intervention, Smith's sixth LP – completed by the artist and mixed postmortem by ex-girlfriend Joanna Bolme and longtime engineer Rob Schnapf, both of whom deserve a queen's respect – is as beautifully eerie as anything he wrote. Reacting to his own vulnerability in opener "Coast to Coast," Smith begs, "If you can't help it, then just leave it alone." With a schizophrenic hop, the audience-tested "Pretty (Ugly Before)" speaks of promise and relief. The XO-esque "Strung Out Again" and poppier "A Fond Farewell" are classic, emotive Smith: songs describing real-life situations, some with regret, some with exclamation. More structured and electric than Either/Or, but without the overproduction of Figure 8, Basement is the next logical step. Epic album highlight "King's Crossing" morphs delayed guitar into melancholic piano and chorus, vocals bouncing off the kick drum with the promise "whiskey works better than beer." After the fear of "Twilight" and the house on "Memory Lane," the disc ends with scolding rocker "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free." "Shine on me, baby, 'cause it's raining in my heart." If only the sun had shone a little longer.


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