Rhythm & Views

Elliott Smith

It took me a week to bring myself to listen to From a Basement on the Hill, because it would be the last time I could listen to a new Elliott Smith record for the first time. And I was scared: Smith recorded and produced the record himself, and it was pretty much finished before Smith died last October, but a posthumous record is not entirely the artist's when someone else finishes it.

Smith's ex-girlfriend Joanna Bolme, and his ex-producer, Rob Schnapf, mixed the record, and the tragic thing is, it's brilliant. From a Basement on a Hill is vibrant, artistic and beautiful. Smith did things on this record that defy musical gravity; guitars with simple effects create layers of texture that sound strangely not like guitars. Noises, poetry and scary bird chirps that waver behind songs are contrasted by Smith's breathy, smooth vocals and acoustic guitar.

The lyrics are at times prophetic, with "King's Crossing" by far the creepiest song. Voices and echoey notes spin around as the song dances in on piano. Smith's voice comes down from the heavens as he sings, "I can't prepare for death any more than I already have." When Smith sings in "Twilight," "I haven't laughed this hard in a long time, better stop now before I start crying," his voice meanders across the fine line between rapture and sadness.

Every melody flourishes; every climax is so carefully crafted and perfect that it's almost like Smith captured his own vitality within the notes, which is wonderful and terrible at the same time.