From a Basement on the Hill

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From a Basement on the Hill
Studio album by Elliott Smith
Released October 19, 2004
Recorded 2002–2003
Genre Indie rock, indie pop, indie folk
Length 57:54
Label ANTI-
Producer Elliott Smith, Rob Schnapf, Joanna Bolme
Elliott Smith chronology
Figure 8
From a Basement on the Hill
New Moon

From a Basement on the Hill is the sixth and final studio album by the late American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Recorded from between 2002 to 2003, it was released posthumously on October 19, 2004 through record label ANTI-.

The album was initially planned as a double album, due to contractual obligations with the DreamWorks label (now Interscope), and was incomplete at the time of Smith's death.[1] Many of the songs Smith intended for the album remained unfinished, in some cases only lacking vocals. Smith's family hired his former producer Rob Schnapf and ex-girlfriend Joanna Bolme to sort through and put the finishing touches on the batch of over thirty songs that were recorded for the album, although the estate retained final decision of which tracks to include.[1] Thus, a fifteen-track album was assembled and released.

Many of the songs reference Smith's lifelong struggles with addiction and suicide. His death was presumed to be a suicide, although the coroner's report and statements from close friends reveal that his death is still under speculation. It was not investigated further.[1]

From a Basement on the Hill became Smith's highest-charting album in the US to date and was praised by critics, with reviewers complimenting the album's attempts to expand Smith's sound, such as the incorporation of instrumental passages as well as heavier, guitar-based material.


On October 21, 2003, just a few months into the recording of From a Basement on a Hill, Elliott Smith died of two stab wounds, thought to be self inflicted. After his death and the release of From A Basement On A Hill, critics and fans viewed the album as a suicide note. Sindri Eldon, a journalist for The Reykjavík Grapevine writes, “…the foreshadowing of his suicide is so strong that it’s difficult to listen to”. Smith offered lyrics such as “I’m through trying now, it’s a big relief” from "The Last Hour" as well as from the track "Coast-to-Coast", “You’re keeping me around, until I finally drag us both down”, which tells of his clingy and dysfunctional relationships, including Jennifer Chiba, his girlfriend at the time of death. In songs like "King’s Crossing", where he sings “It’s Christmas time and the needle’s on the tree, the skinny Santa is bringing something to me”, he directly references heroin, which he had many problems with. [2] [3]

It is a well-known fact that Smith battled heavy drug addiction and severe depression for most of his life, although he was sober in his final days, seeking treatment at the Neurotransmitter Restoration Center in Beverly Hills and even giving up alcohol, caffeine, red meat, refined sugars and most of his prescribed psychiatric medications on his 34th birthday. Smith took to sobriety with the same intensity with which he took to intoxication, and he found himself suddenly face-to-face with a lifetime of depression and unmanaged emotional trauma.[1]


Following Smith's death, Rob Schnapf, producer of Smith's earlier albums Either/Or, XO and Figure 8, was hired to mix and produce the album, along with Smith's former girlfriend Joanna Bolme. David McConnell, although present throughout much of the actual recording process, was not consulted during the mixing, nor was he asked for the extensive three years' worth of notes he and Smith had made while the album was being recorded.[4] When asked why he personally took up the job of finishing the album, Schnapf stated, "I had a paternal, protective feeling. I didn't want anybody mucking it up."[5] The producer also noted that the track "Ostriches & Chirping", a short instrumental made from sampling and looping the noises made by a toy bird, had nothing to do with Smith and was something that McConnell had recorded by himself. McConnell said "don't ask me how this ended up on the record, I totally forgot I had put that on one of his reels."[6]

When asked what he believed the late Smith would think of the released version of the album, McConnell told Benjamin Nugent, "I don't think he would have delivered [that] record. The record he would have delivered would have had more songs, would have had different mixes and [been] a little more in-your-face."[7] Schnapf also expressed that the final result that he and Bolme had produced was not the album that Smith would have made, simply because Elliott was not around to finish the album. Bolme also said that they did not add anything to the songs, and only mixed whatever had been recorded: "I would never presume to add anything. We didn't add anything."[8]

The album was initially planned as a double album, due to contractual obligations with the DreamWorks label (now Interscope).[9] Smith had over 50 songs on tape reel or digital hard drive. He completed mixing on nine of these tracks with several others lacking only minor revisions or final vocals. Smith's estate hired Schnapf and Bolme to complete mixing on these tracks and eventually chose 15 for inclusion on the album, which was ultimately released on ANTI- label.[1]


  • Elliott Smith – all instruments not listed below, production, recording, front cover handwriting
Additional personnel
  • Sam Coomes – bass guitar and backing vocals ("Pretty (Ugly Before)")
  • Steven Drozd – drums ("Coast to Coast")
  • Aaron Embry – keyboards ("Pretty (Ugly Before)")
  • Scott McPherson – drums ("Pretty (Ugly Before)")
  • Fritz Michaud – drums ("King's Crossing")
  • Aaron Sperske – drums ("Coast to Coast")
  • Nelson Gary – poetry reading ("Coast to Coast")
  • Autumn DeWilde – sleeve typography
  • Joanna Bolmemixing
  • Rob Schnapf – mixing
  • Scott Wiley – engineering assistance
  • Ted Jensen – mastering
  • Andrew Beckman – recording (additional)
  • Chris Chandler – recording (additional)
  • David McConnell – recording (additional)
  • Dee Robb – recording (additional)
  • Fritz Michaud – recording (additional)
  • Jon Brion – recording (additional)
  • Matthew Ellard – recording (additional)
  • Pete Magdaleno – recording (additional)
  • Ryan Castle – recording (additional)
  • Tom Biller – recording (additional)
  • Valente Torres – recording (additional)
  • Nick Pritchard – sleeve design
  • Renaud Monfourny – front cover photograph
  • Ashley Welch – sleeve photography
  • Dominic DiSaia – sleeve photography
  • Paul Heartfield – sleeve photography

Track information[edit]

"Coast to Coast" features poetry by Nelson Gary. Smith told Under the Radar in 2003: "I asked this friend of mine to make up something he could say as fast as he could in fifteen minutes about people healing themselves or being unable to heal themselves. While he's saying this thing there is a main vocal that goes over that."[10]

"Pretty (Ugly Before)" was previously released as a single in August 2003 on Suicide Squeeze Records, along with a different version of "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free".[11] According to McConnell, Smith did not intend to have "Pretty (Ugly Before)" on the album.[12]

During the recording period for the album, Smith had recorded with Steven Drozd and Russell Simins, drummers for The Flaming Lips and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, respectively.[13]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Elliott Smith, except "Ostrich & Chirping", written by David McConnell

No. Title Length
1. "Coast to Coast"   5:33
2. "Let's Get Lost"   2:27
3. "Pretty (Ugly Before)"   4:45
4. "Don't Go Down"   4:34
5. "Strung Out Again"   3:12
6. "A Fond Farewell"   3:58
7. "King's Crossing"   4:57
8. "Ostrich & Chirping"   0:33
9. "Twilight"   4:29
10. "A Passing Feeling"   3:32
11. "The Last Hour"   3:27
12. "Shooting Star"   6:01
13. "Memory Lane"   2:30
14. "Little One"   3:14
15. "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free"   4:32


From a Basement on the Hill was released on October 19, 2004, almost a year after Smith's death, through record label ANTI-, a sub-label of Epitaph. It peaked at No. 19 in the US, making it his highest-charting album in the US to date.[14] The album has also been re-released by Kill Rock Stars, alongside a remastered reissue of his 1994 debut, Roman Candle. [15]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 88/100[16]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4.5/5 stars[17]
Robert Christgau (dud)[18]
Entertainment Weekly A[16]
Mojo 4/5 stars[16]
NME 9/10[16]
Pitchfork 7.2/10 (2004)[19]
8.4/10 (2010)[20]
PopMatters 9/10[16]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[16]
Spin A[16]
Stylus Magazine A–[16]

From a Basement on the Hill was well received by critics. On music review aggregator website Metacritic, the album holds an approval rating of 88/100 based on thirty-seven reviews; one of the highest-rated albums in the website's database.[16]

Pitchfork called it "perfectly coherent and cohesive, without any sense of being slapped together from half-finished parts."[19] E! Online called it "a beautiful swansong to one of this generation's best."[16] Filter called it "large and epic, but tense and claustrophobic as well, and, gratefully, it's as close to Elliott as we've ever been."[16] Reviewers complimented the album's attempts to expand Smith's sound, such as the incorporation of instrumental passages as well as heavier, guitar-based material.[16]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2004) Peak
Australian ARIA Albums Chart 50[21]
Belgian Albums Chart (Vl) 47[22]
French SNEP Albums Chart 45[23]
Irish Albums Chart 11[24]
Norwegian Albums Chart 37[25]
Swedish Albums Chart 52[26]
UK Albums Chart 41[27]
US Billboard 200 19[14]
US Billboard Independent Albums 1[28]


  1. ^ a b c d e Gowing, Liam (October 21, 2013). "Mr. Misery". Spin (magazine). Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  2. ^ Eldon,Sindri"Being Him Just Wasn't That Much Fun",The Reykjavik Grapevine, Retrieved April 7, 2014
  3. ^ Petridis,Alexis"Rev. of "From a Basement On A Hill", The Guardian, Retrieved April 7, 2014
  4. ^ Chun, Kimberly. "No Easy Way Out". San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  5. ^ Smith, R.J. "Elliott Smith's Uneasy Afterlife". New York Times. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  6. ^ "David McConnell". Eye. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Elliott Smith Lives Again! From a Basement on the Hill V.2 – The Confabulators Archive". The Confabulators. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  8. ^ Blair, Elizabeth (October 15, 2004). "'From a Basement': Elliott Smith's Posthumous Gift : NPR". NPR. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Badger Herald: ArtsEtc.: Singer Elliott Smith Dead in Apparent L.A. Suicide". The Badger Herald. January 12, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2013. 
  10. ^ Gary, Nelson. "Coast to Coast: Elliott Smith, A Personal Account". The Lummox Journal. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Final Elliott Smith Album Due in October | Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  12. ^ Nanamaker, Ben (June 15, 2012). "Final Album Displays Ambivalence – Arts – The Lantern – Ohio State University". The Lantern. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Friends, Peers Mourn Elliott Smith | Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b "Elliott Smith – Chart History | Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  15. ^ "From a Basement on the Hill". 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Critic Reviews for From a Basement on the Hill – Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved March 7, 2013. 
  17. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "From a Basement on the Hill – Elliott Smith : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. AllRovi. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  18. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Robert Christgau: CG: Elliott Smith". Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Petrusich, Amanda (October 17, 2004). "Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill | Album Reviews | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  20. ^ Greene, Jayson (March 29, 2010). "Elliott Smith: Roman Candle / From a Basement on the Hill | Album Reviews | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 11, 2013. 
  21. ^ " – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill". Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  22. ^ " – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill". Ultratop. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  23. ^ " – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill". Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  24. ^ " – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill". Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  25. ^ " – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill". Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  26. ^ " – Elliott Smith – From a Basement on the Hill". Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Elliott Smith | Artist | Official Charts". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Elliott Smith – Chart History | Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 

External links[edit]