#MoNM Day 5: Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill

Even having never listened to it before, there’s something comfortably familiar about From a Basement on the Hill. As an Elliott Smith album, it fits. The melodies have the same minor-key melancholy that he perfected a decade before this album was released. The arrangements, while on the whole more restrained than XO or Figure 8, are still fully realized and brimming with small surprises. The lyrics still mix self-deprecation and bitterness with occasional hints of playfulness.

And, six years after its release, it’s also (relatively) easy to listen to the album without analyzing every element in terms of Smith’s suicide. Some lines still do jump out, naturally – “Give me one good reason not to do it” on “Kings Crossing” in particular lends itself to that interpretation. But, for me, at least, From a Basement doesn’t sound like a “death” record. It doesn’t even sound particularly unfinished. It sounds like what it is – the next Elliott Smith album, a slightly more raw take on the major label sound of his previous two albums – and it’s far too immediate of a record to be written off as just an artifact. At first blush, I’m not sure it lives up to its predecessors; it doesn’t have the urgency of the first couple albums or the meticulousness of the last two. Then again, those are high standards to hold any album to.

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