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From a Basement on the Hill

From a Basement on the Hill

4.8 9
by Elliott Smith

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Released just about a year to the day after his sudden, tragic, but not entirely unexpected death, Elliott Smith's last recorded testament provides an alternately chilling and poignant look inside the singer-songwriter's mind-set in his last days. But despite the often troubling subject matter, From a Basement on the Hill never feels like an exercise in


Released just about a year to the day after his sudden, tragic, but not entirely unexpected death, Elliott Smith's last recorded testament provides an alternately chilling and poignant look inside the singer-songwriter's mind-set in his last days. But despite the often troubling subject matter, From a Basement on the Hill never feels like an exercise in voyeurism; its almost elegiac quality actually invites something of a catharsis. That's particularly true of "Pretty (Ugly Before)," on which Smith and former Heatmiser bandmate Sam Coomes turn the song's chorus into a mantra of sorts, with the repetition of unpleasant thoughts becoming a palliative. Smith refers often -- and not altogether obliquely -- to his unsteady emotional state on songs like the woozy "Strung Out Again" and the jarring closing track, "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free," which comes across as a slap at those seeking to intervene in his self-medication process. The darkness is leavened here and there -- spiritually on the furtive "Don't Go Down" and sonically on the surprisingly chipper "A Fond Farewell," which sets Smith's waving-goodbye lyric against a jangling melody that could almost pass for vintage Tom Petty. While certainly a sad epitaph, From a Basement on the Hill would certainly be one of the more moving collections of the year even without the circumstances surrounding its release.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Almost exactly a year after his untimely death -- missing the anniversary by just two days -- Elliott Smith's final recordings were released as the From a Basement on the Hill album. Smith had been working on the album for a long time. His last album, Figure 8, had appeared in 2000, and when it came time to record its follow-up, he parted ways with both his major label, Dreamworks, and his longtime producer/engineer, Rob Schnapf, working through a number of different producers, including L.A. superproducer Jon Brion, before recording a number of sessions with David McConnell, which were supplemented with Smith's home recordings. At the time of his death, Smith was still tinkering with the album. There was no final track sequence and only a handful of final mixes; it was closer to completion than Jeff Buckley's Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, which he intended to re-record, but it was still up to his family to finalize the record. For various reasons, the family chose to work with Schnapf and Joanna Bolme -- a former girlfriend of Smith and current member of Stephen Malkmus' Jicks -- instead of McConnell, who went on record with Kimberly Chun of The San Francisco Bay Area Guardian the week before the release of From a Basement to state that this album was not exactly what Smith intended it to be. According to McConnell, as well as Elliott Smith biographer Benjamin Nugent, Smith wanted the album to be rough and ragged, and McConnell told Chun that "obviously Elliott did not get his wishes," claiming that three of the songs on the album were considered finished by both him and Smith, but appear on the record in different mixes. It's hard to dispute that Smith did not get to finalize the mixes, the track selection, or the sequencing -- he died, after all, with the album uncompleted -- but that's the nature of posthumous recordings: they're never quite what might have appeared had the artist lived. Critics, fans, and historians can have endless debates about whether this particular incarnation of the songs on From a Basement on the Hill would have been what would have been heard if Smith had finished the record, but that doesn't take away from the simple fact that the music here is strong enough to warrant a release, and that it offers a sense of resolution to his discography. While it's likely that From a Basement is cleaner than what Smith and McConnell intended, it is much sparer than Figure 8, and it feels at once more adventurous, confident, and warmer than its predecessor. Perhaps it's not "the next White Album, which is what McConnell claims it could have been, but it has a similarly freewheeling spirit, bouncing from sweet pop to fingerpicked acoustic guitars to fuzzy neo-psychedelic washes of sound. It's not far removed from Smith's previous work, but it feels like a step forward from the fussy Figure 8 and more intimate than XO. The most surprising twist is that despite the occasional lyrics that seem to telegraph his death (particularly on "A Fond Farewell"), it's not a crushingly heavy album. Like the best of his music, From a Basement on the Hill is comforting in its sadness; it's empathetic, not alienating. Given Smith's tragic fate, it also sadly seems like a summation of his work. All of his trademarks are here -- his soft, sad voice, a fixation on '60s pop, a warm sense of melancholy -- delivered in a strong set of songs that stands among his best. It may or may not be exactly what Elliott Smith intended these recording sessions to be, but as it stands, From a Basement on the Hill is a fond farewell to a singer/songwriter who many indie rockers of the '90s considered a friend.
Entertainment Weekly - David Browne
Turning mental breakdown into its own form of frazzled beauty, the album is, ironically, one of the best he ever made. (A-)

Product Details

Release Date:


  1. Coast To Coast
  2. Let’s Get Lost
  3. Pretty (Ugly Before)
  4. Don’t Go Down
  5. Strung Out Again
  6. A Fond Farewell
  7. King’s Crossing
  8. Ostriches & Chirping
  9. Twilight
  10. A Passing Feeling
  11. Last Hour
  12. Shooting Star
  13. Memory Lane
  14. Little One
  15. A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Elliott Smith   Primary Artist,Vocals,Fonts
Steven Drozd   Drums
Aaron Sperske   Drums
Sam Coomes   Bass,Bass Guitar,Background Vocals
Fritz Michaud   Drums
Scott McPherson   Drums
Aaron Embry   Keyboards
Nelson Gary   Readings,Spoken Word
Steven Drodz   Drums

Technical Credits

Chris Chandler   Engineer
Jon Brion   Engineer
Pete Magdaleno   Engineer
Dee Robb   Engineer
Elliott Smith   Composer,Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Matthew Ellard   Engineer
Renaud Monfourny   Cover Photo
Dave McConnell   Engineer
Autumn de Wilde   Cut
Andrew Beckman   Engineer
Fritz Michaud   Engineer
Ryan Castle   Engineer
Valente Torrez   Engineer
Tom Biller   Engineer

Customer Reviews

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From a Basement on the Hill 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The tracks are confounding, brilliant, and hallucinogenic ... Moments of shimmering clarity give way to distortion and deliberate tunelessness ... a soundtrack to Elliott's state of mind? E.S. made music that over-the-hill, previously brilliant singer-songwriters could only dream of. His future was boundless. His mindprints are here ...
Guest More than 1 year ago
i had heard of elliot smith before, but never really given his music much thought, but after reading a huge article about him in spin, i had to listen-and i am so glad i did. i cant believe what i was missing out on. this cd (and his others) are truely amazing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This album blew me away. I was in Ireland when it was released-- the dark, dreary Ireland rain and cloudy skies reflected perfectly the mood of this album. It is powerful, emotional, angry, sad, "strung out", seething, longing, regretful. To me, it is somewhat similar to XO, with its heavy-handed emotion. It is a must if you enjoy Elliot Smith. It is, in my opinion, his finest work. It contrasts greatly between his first (self titled) and his last, ranging from light instrumental acoustics to rock-out angry I-hate-society songs. It is a must for long time listeners or first time buyers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had only listened to Elliott Smith's eponymous album before I saw this by chance on a shelf one day, soon after its release. Only after I've listened to Smith's extensive range of musical capabilities (from post-grunge to stark guitar and vocal to outwardly pop) and read up on his background have I come to fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of this album. Yes, Smith committed suicide before finishing, and yes, his family and friends finalized the album, but 'From a Basement on a Hill' stands up in the face of the controversy which surrounded Smith's death and YES - it is a breathtaking, fully appropriate release. From the slight, precise fingerpicking on 'Let's Get Lost' to the hollow, self-defeating 'Strung Out Again', to the barely there 'Memory Lane' and the wrenchingly fatalistic yet quietly defiant 'Last Hour', Smith's geunine strength and orginality as a singer/songwriter is fully present. Looking back on Smith's life, and the material on this album, one can almost draw unnerving parallels between this post-humous release and Smith's own unraveling. 'Fond Farewell' is among the most haunting tracks, when Smith sings 'A little less than a happy high/ A little less than a suicide/ The only things that you really tried/ This is not my life.' The end track, 'A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free' is a Beatle-esque, hallucinogenic and appropriate way to end the album, and also end Smith's final work he left unfinished, floating in the wake of his immense tragedy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again, Elliott does not disappoint. He calmly takes his listeners for another passionate roller coaster ride, thereby offering his poetic ups and downs, and in the process, displaying his beautiful musical prowess, a gift of perpetual endurance.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was skeptical about how this album was going to turn out because it was finished after Elliott's death. We will never know what it would have sounded like had he finished it himself, so I am just going to enjoy it as if he did. Listening to it makes me miss him, makes me sad. I only saw him live once. I wish I had seen him more, but I was so lucky to see him that one time. It was so apparent how much happiness his music brought to everyone who heard it. There was such a great vibe at the concert I went to. The hope he had, despite all of the despair, is the thing I cannot reconcile now that he has committed suicide. I imagine that, wherever he is, he is in less pain now - and that he is still making beautiful, poignant music that touches all who hears it. Elliott Smith, you will be missed.
helkiah More than 1 year ago
great rainy day music. just don't listen to it if you're depressed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I drove around today, after buying the album after it was released this morning. I smiled a lot, because it reminds me of how much I loved playing his previous albums and singing in my car and while playing his songs on guitar. His often upbeat soft melodic voice, and his catchy riffs continue to belie the paradox of his lyrics, which allude to the reality of this very real person and artist. It's awesome, I can't believe this is really Elliott Smith. How can any of the albums this man put out disappoint?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago