Wednesday, September 23, 2009

BIBJ Playlist of the 2000s entry #53: Twilight by Elliott Smith

Full Details of the BIBJ Millennial Playlist Hullabaloo are available here. Today's entry is #53: Twilight by Elliott Smith (2004)

Elliott Smith - Twilight (mp3)

You don't deserve to be lonely
But those drugs you got won't make you feel better
Pretty soon you'll find it's the only
Little part of your life you're keeping together

By most accounts, the songs that would become From a Basement on the Hill were each in various stages of post-production when Elliott Smith died. This is the most likely explanation for the jarring tonal shifts throughout the album. You get the sense from listening that Smith had a vision for certain sounds and was able to put them into some songs, but many others likely contain production elements added after he died by who knows how many people, creating a muddled result. The songs aren’t bad (though they’re also not his best) but when put together, the lack of cohesion makes it sound like a compilation collection as opposed to an actual album. (Oddly, New Moon – the actual compilation released 3 years after Basement – has a far more consistent flow.) The disconnect is evident from opener “Coast to Coast,” which has all the hooks one would expect, but is buried with overdubs and echo that distract and overpower the melody. Perhaps the wall of sound and overdubs was Smith's idea (it works much better later on "King's Crossing"), but the method is quickly abandoned from one song to the next, depriving the full work from a signature sound or identity.

Criticism aside, "Twilight" is justifiably the centerpiece of the album. I believe it's the oldest song on the album. I remember Elliott playing it live as far back as 2000, though at the time it appeared on setlists with the title “Somebody’s Baby,” leading me to temporarily wonder if he was covering Jackson Browne.

Luckily, "Twilight" also seems to be one of the few songs on Basement kept economically sparse production wise. There's no percussion, and strings are present but they're kept firmly in the background, serving as accents rather than focal points. The added ambiance (a recorded soundtrack of twilight) hovers just below the surface, never distracting from the double-tracked vocals.

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