From a Basement on the Hill
Last Tuesday, the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith’s final CD, From a Basement on the Hill, was released. Although the Los Angeles Police department listed his death as a suicide, many speculate there’s a possibility that he was murdered. Smith died from two stab wounds to the chest.
With a repeated history of alcohol and substance abuse ranging from heroine to crack cocaine, Smith’s struggle with life and the frailty of his emotional state are no less evident in the lyrics of From a Basement on the Hill than on his previous albums Either/Or (1997) and XO (1998). In “Twilight,” Smith reveals, “…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 keepin’ together.”
Despite the disturbing, yet all-too-real topics upon which Smith writes, one may find himself lost in a soothing trance, thanks to his Beatlesque, vivacious melodies-a disparity that only a musical genius can pull off.
The 15-track CD includes songs versatile enough to cover just about any mood one might be in.
Feeling upbeat and crazy? Turn on “Shooting Star” or “Memory Lane” – the reminiscent 70s-rock riffs will get you going. In the mood for a poetic ballad? Try “Last Hour,” or “Little One” – their waltz-like feel combined with Smith’s wispy vocals would refresh even the brownest of bananas at the SAC. Looking for something to unwind to? What about “King’s Crossing,” or “Twilight?” The serene piano, harmonious backup vocals and crickets/frogs in particular on “Twilight” will lift the stress from your shoulders better than any masseuse could. Mad at the world because you just bombed your midterm? Listening to “A distorted reality is now a necessity to be free” should do the trick; you can scream along with the angry vocals and heavy bass.
From a Basement on the Hill also includes two live bonus tracks, “True Love” and “A Passing Feeling.”
All encompassing, Smith’s ability to weave both utter chaos and tranquility skillfully throughout the album, and each song for that matter, proves testament to his unique musical spirit. Elliott Smith is not dead in the sense that John Keats lives on through “Ode to a Grecian Urn.” Smith will live forever through his extraordinary music.
Since Notorious B.I.G.’s death, the music industry has been looking to replace him. Puffy tried in 2000 with Shyne, and now Virgin Records is attempting the same with Guerilla Black.
Shyne eventually created his own identity and slowly moved into the spotlight as himself rather than a Biggie imitator. Black, however, seems to embrace the heavy look, voice and style of Biggie. Black uses this image to his fullest advantage on his Virgin debut.
The Compton emcee’s flow and delivery on the Bob Marley inspired track “Hearts of Fire” sounds eerily similar to Biggie’s anger on “Things Done Changed.” He even mentions his stepfather having cancer, just as B.I.G. mentioned his mother’s breast cancer on “Things Done Changed.” Moreover, he responds to criticisms about his style: “He look like Big/ He sound like Big/ Yo I’m B-L-A-C-K, n—ga you dig.”
Having Bad Boy’s Mario Winans sing on the catchy “You’re The One” doesn’t help Black separate himself from the deceased Bad Boy rapper.
Black attempts to distance himself from the Brooklyn rapper by representing his hometown on the reggae-influenced “Compton.” Beenie Man’s vocals help set the track’s West Coast hip hop and dancehall tone and rhythm. On “Guerilla City,” he portrays the hardcore life in Compton as being a city full of gang bangers and drug dealers, reinforcing the imagery in movies like Menace II Society.
Jazze Pha’s mediocre production on the oversexed “Guerilla Nasty” doesn’t mix well with Black’s flow to distinguish itself from forgettable tracks on many rap albums.
With many hardcore rhymes and songs on Guerilla Black, you would think Black doesn’t have time for the ladies. Like the majority of current hip hop records, he adds a few slow tracks that would soothe the R&B and hip hop listeners. On “Sunrise,” he rhymes about balling and being a playa similar to Biggie’s verses on “F–k You Tonight:” “Cause I’m fat/ I hit it like I’m skinny/ Choke up that dro from the IHOP to Denny’s/ It’s your choice/ real pretty skin tone.”
Despite his comparisons to Biggie, Guerilla Black holds his own in the industry with his slick wit and angry flows that could keep him in the limelight for a while.
The Rest Is History
(Ruff Ryders/ Virgin)
After getting inducted into 106 & Park’s Freestyle Friday’s hall of fame, Jin had established himself in hip hop’s mainstream as well as a Ruff Ryder/ Virgin deal. However, his career took a turn with many delayed album release dates that had fans and critics beginning to wonder whether his deal was legitimate.
Now he can finally silence most critics with his debut album, The Rest Is History. Like the popularity growth of Chinese NBA all-star, Yao Ming, Jin is making his entrance into mainstream hip hop known with his quick-witted word play and production from hit-makers like Swizz Beats, Wyclef Jean and newcomer Neo.
The Neo-produced track, “Get Your Handz Off,” lets Jin prove why he went undefeated on 106 & Park with vicious lyrics. “Hip hop without Jin is like/ shootouts without guns/ churches without nuns/ bankers without funds/ smoking without lungs/ cities without slums.”
Like many freestyle battle specialists, he doesn’t transcend well attempting to create party songs like “The Come Thru” featuring Twista. Twista’s tongue twisting rhymes don’t compliment Jin’s slower, clever style.
The Ruff Ryder takes a political approach while going back to his Chinese roots on “Same Cry” touching sensitive issues in China like sweatshops, Tiananmen Square and SARS. “Love Story” discusses his interracial relationship with a black woman. The catchy club hooks of “Seniorita” paints a picture of Jin’s hometown of Miami.
The Kanye West-produced, “I Got a Love” is a light-hearted approach opposite most of The Rest Is History’s songs. Jin refers to issues of meeting groupies with his comedic lyrics: “I convince birds to come out they cage and play/ Polly wanna a Gucci parka ma/ What did you say?/ Polly might get a cracker/ Aint no trickin today.”
He offers his insight of mastering the art of flipping the racism script on the piano-heavy beat, “C’Mon.” Moreover, he quashes stereotypes of Asian Americans: “Worst of all people told me I was wasting my time/ Like I was better off making up computer designs/ A doctor, a lawyer, or anything that’s using my mind.”
With his solid major-label debut and a radio-hit, Jin is set to hit the industry by storm.
– Alan Gung
Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World needs to make up their minds about what sort of band they are.
Since the release of Clarity several years back, there has been a notable, rather troubling dichotomy within the band’s music.
It became most notable with the release of their breakthrough LP, Bleed American.
Basically, Jimmy Eat World albums seem to always be split into two parts. There are the upbeat fun songs, and the downbeat moody ones.
This became most clear with Bleed American, because all the good songs on the record were released as singles.
Those who bought the album expecting 10 tracks that sounded like “The Middle” or “Sweetness” must have been very disappointed. This trend has continued with Futures.
The interesting thing about Futures, however, is that the album seems to be divided almost directly in half.
Those who do not enjoy mellow Jimmy Eat World can pop this puppy out around track six and never know the difference.
It’s not like a band has to play fast and upbeat to play well, but Jimmy Eat World simply does not display the same songwriting talent on their slower tracks. Lyrically, they tend to be weaker, and on top of that, they’re just plain boring.
However, the couple good songs on Futures are very good. “Futures” and “Just Tonight” are up there with the band’s best stuff. Unfortunately, it is all downhill from there.
“Drugs Or Me” is easily one of the worst songs this band has ever recorded, complete with laughably bad, amateur-sounding lyrics. “Pain” is also bad, more or less living up to it’s name.
The question of whether half a good album is worth purchasing is a tough one and it is up to the individual consumer to decide.
In this case, the bad may indeed be bad enough for fans to just skip it.
Note: For hardcore Jimmy Eat World fans, there are several Internet-only demo tracks from this CD floating around that are better than most of the songs that actually made it onto the album.