Elliott Smith

From a Basement on the Hill

Whatever demons drove him, one thing's for sure: The late Elliott Smith had a gift for masterfully crafting intricately constructed, emotive pop-rock in the classic (1967-74) mold, his disconsolate lyrics laced with cynical wit ("Every wave is tidal/ If you hang around, you're going to get wet"). From a Basement ...consists of Smith's final recordings, each track a gem of folklike directness adjoined with lush, layered studio songcraft none-too-distant echoes of the Beatles, Badfinger, Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, and pre-glitter Elton John. "Shooting Star" and "A Passing Feeling" recall John Lennon's songs from the White Album, as they articulate tremendous longing, contrast dulcet melodies with snappish rock 'n' roll crunch, and feature unexpected, (self?) mocking dissonances. "King's Crossing" is Smith's own minisymphony, with an intro of gossamer, wraithlike sustained tones elegantly segueing into a sulky piano motif that beguilingly builds to a climax, his sweet, Brit-sounding vocals lending gentle irony to his characteristically self-deprecating verse: "I don't care if I fuck up/ I'm going on a date/ With a rich white lady/ Ain't life great?" At times, Mr. Smith, at times.

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