Elliott Smith's From a Basement on the Hill is one of my two favorite albums of this year, along with The Arcade Fire's Funeral. Smith was an unapologetic Beatles fan, and that influence is evident in the new album's quieter songs, more than anything he has recorded in the past. "Let's Get Lost" opens suspiciously like "Mother Nature's Son," and features Harrison-style arpeggios. You've heard piano turnarounds like those in "Pretty (Ugly Before)" in Lennon's "Jealous Guy." "Memory Lane" begins with a fingerpicked descent along the fretboard that evokes "Blackbird."
This is not to say that the album is derivative of the White Album-era Beatles. Elliott Smith's personality comes through your speakers and touches you, and you feel an intimate despair that you never got from the Beatles. Listening to Basement is more like listening to the downtrodden Beck's Sea Change. In "Let's Get Lost," he sings, Burning every bridge that I cross/To find some beautiful place to get lost, and in "King's Crossing," he foreshadows his suicide: I can't prepare for death any more than I already have...All you can do now is watch the shells/The game looks easy, that's why it sells.
His guitar work has always been brilliant, but on Basement it's downright arresting. Listen to him strum, fingerpick, bend, and slide on his album. It's still available for preview here.
He really sounds like the Beatles here:
Elliott Smith - For No One (Live Beatles Cover)
Elliott Smith - Jealous Guy (Live Lennon Cover)
Listen to 'From a Basement': Elliott Smith's Posthumous Gift, on the making of From a Basement On the Hill, from NPR's All Things Considered.
Listen to a review of Elliott Smith's career in the j-files archive.