Classic albums come in different forms, not all of them are purely a collection of excellent songs. Some, namely Loveless
by My Bloody Valentine or Godspeed You!'s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennaes To Heaven
are not your typical album, and albeit not sounding alike to another classic...say Quadrophenia,
they become an embodiment of music and produce something you may never hear again. Its good too. Elliott Smith's final release after his extremely untimely death is a mixture of two aspects plucked from the 'Building A Classic' list. He successfully creates a warping portal out of his songs whilst singing over this and crafting textured music. Musical texture is a rare occurence in an artist's life, and even more rare in the actual world. Some may not be considered good enough to be knighted as a texture album. Elliott surpasses my expectations and constructs what the opposite of the norm was at that time and becomes a private entity of greatness by doing so. Elliott Smith has accomplished what so many have tried to do and failed. This album however was not a lifetime effort, as it was stated to be unfinished and Elliott had unfortunately passed on before he could place the final touch on his masterpiece. My, could you even imagine what this would have been like if he was given the chance to be done, finally? To complete the unfinished business? But no, he didn't, and that's the case. We need to work with what we have been given and be grateful to be graced with such a timeless piece of music. Elliott Smith's From A Basement On The Hill
is one of the most beautiful sounds you will ever hear in your lifetime.
The album will not only captivate you, but as well as that it may force tears from your eyes. It is so emotional, sometimes I feel I can't put it into words how that is. Its a mystery how he was able to continue playing on this record without breaking down. Of course it isn't depressing, if that's the jist your getting. While some lyrics do not have the least bit of happiness hinted among them the songs he makes become happy, like he is sick of crying out for help and he knows that it will all be over soon. Its scary at times to think he died in the duration of making this, it seems as though he probably knew he would pass away as young as he did. I'm sure he was going through a tough time in the recording process, which you can obviously hear in his pained and frail voice. Not to force a downside on the album, though...Elliott's voice is so small it becomes one of the most powerful and moving performances you'll hear. Listen to 'Twilight' or 'Fond Farewell' for a prime example of that sound. Speaking of the man's voice, he can not only sound the part but he can technically sing it out as well. The guy knows how to sing - you have to give him that. He is very strong in that department, showcasing his ability to keep a tone, execute different pitches at the correct and needed times and he flows like a river alongside his beautifully glistening guitar playing.
Elliott's work on this has two faces two it. Remember when I talked about the texture beforehand? Texture in music is the sound of not intertwined instrumentation and voice, texture is some form of sound producing a unique and natural kind of sound to your ears. It is the epitome of musical aspect; texture is what its supposed to sound like. Sadly, many artist's have not worked as hard as to produce this sound. But the people that have were praised and realized, believe me. You may recognize some of them if I give names, but I wouldn't want to relieve the focus of worship from Elliott. So what is texture, in a deeper sense? Well, have you ever heard a bird's chirping outside your window upon waking in the morning? Seems natural and your used to it, right? Well what about rain. Or wind? Crackling fire? Doesn't sound like your typical musical genres. But Elliott Smith worked so he could produce a record with the same types of sounds, only they are man-made. The rain, fire, wind, waterfalls and birds altogether should make a very peaceful and relaxing sound. You could simply sit and just listen,
for hours on end.
So where are we going with this? Well, I'll tell you. To conclude, Elliott made an album that had all of those aspects, like elements of music. His guitar, effects, voice, backing instrumentation and flow are to music as earth, water, wind, and fire are to nature. They flow and exist in harmony. Elliott's music flows and exists with us in pure harmony, and melody. That is the point of musical texture. Its a lifeform of sorts, and it becomes one with the world. Not only does it live but it aids the living by giving pleasure, the best kind. The kind embodied in music. His music laces up with natural sound and ultimately forms a masterpiece. On to the second chemical to makeup this astounding formula! It seems as though I covered everything that pertains to his music, no? Well I did. In a different way, though. Though not as outstanding and no where near as influential, this is the canvas that contains the texture I spoke about. Now, texture refers to a painting, in this case. What would happen if you lifted a few paint cans, removed the lid and tossed them in front of you? A mess. It would create a huge and unnecessary load of distraction. This is what much texture music suffers from, but Elliott Smith manages to throw his paint onto a canvas and perfects his work.
This 'canvas' is none other than the lyrics. The writing. The story
of From A Basement On The Hill.
Now you would do well to know that Elliott is no amatuer when it comes to this. While not all of his music could qualify as texture every last song he has ever written and released has a tale of meaning to it. Some songs convey a situation with a significant other, others are childlike ballads of innocence. Some can come off as extremely depressing and suicidal, but really they mean nothing of the sort. A true artist like Elliott would naturally be a master of making songs into things like that, the opposite of what you expect. See, the lyrics are the canvas. You don't expect the paper to be anything special, do you? Well, what if behind some of Monet's most fabulous work, on the canvas there lay written in nothing other than ink, a biography of the man's life, as written by the painter himself? Not what you think of when you look at a painting, is it? The songs on this album (not all of them, mind you...some of it is straightforward masterpiece material) have that special quality that makes them such and emotional mystery.
So an ending is an ending. This will come to a close, you'll finish reading and go on to something else. But Elliott Smith will keep on singing from a basement on his hill. This album is eternal, the truest defenition of an immortal man and his piece of music. Hopefully you've sparked the ambition to quest for this, whether it be across the nation or down the road to your nearest record shoppe. Either way, it will be an extremely rewarding experience.
Vocals/Guitars: Elliott Smith
Bass/Backing Vocals: Sam Coomes
Special Appearences by Steven Drozd (drums on Coast to Coast), Aaron Embry (keyboard on Pretty (Ugly Before), Scott McPherson (drums on Pretty (Ugly Before), Fritz Michaud (drums on King's Crossing), and Aaron Sperske (drums on Coast to Coast).