Sometimes there is a moment. A single point on a record that the listener (an active listener) thinks, “there is no way this record is not going to kick ass.” It doesn’t happen often, and when it does it is a special thing. It happened for me on this Bellini record. It happened for me 14 seconds into the opening track. Within the first minute I had chills. By the second song I was shrieking with delight.
Where to start? The beginning.
Bellini was formed in 2000 when Uzeda guitarist Agostino Tilotta linked up with Damon Che (Don Caballero). Though they initially intended to form an instrumental duo, Tilotta and Che quickly added Tilotta’s wife, Giovanna Cacciola (also of Uzeda). It’s sort of a standard bands forming from bands story. Then it gets a little weird. After receiving glowing praise for its debut, Snowing Sun, Bellini set out on tour — it didn’t go well. Tensions in the band were high during most of the brief tour. Then, in a drunken haze, Damon Che quit the band mid-set, at a show in Athens, Georgia…he split town with the tour van as well. Destitute, the band reached out to Alexis Fleisig (Girls Against Boys). The tour continued two days later and Bellini survived a band breakdown of mythic proportions. Fast forward three years. Fleisig has remained with the band, which has returned with the visceral Small Stones.
For Small Stones Bellini has once again teamed up with Albini, and the results (as you may have gathered) do not disappoint. Some adjectives: uncompromising, brutal, precise. They all apply here. You have to hand it to Albini; he’s got an ineffable sound. And bands that do it his way are the better for it.
“Room Number Five” opens the album. It immediately intimates the differences between Bellini’s debut and this album. Slow-rolling drums and diminished guitars creep in before Cacciola begins — her voice more restrained, nearly a whisper. The song progresses straight ahead, the volume and intensity steadily growing until her passion actually becomes palpable.
Snowing Sun saw Bellini headed down a far more twisted path, winding through intricate guitar lines and turning abrupt corners around Che’s breakneck drumming. By contrast, Small Stones is more direct, more melodic than its predecessor. Ultimately the two albums arrive in similar places. But, in its directness, Small Stones ultimately outshines Snowing Sun; what it lacks in intricacy, it more than makes up for with unbridled passion.
Less I’ve led you to think that Bellini is veering entirely away from its math rock tendencies, enter “Fuck the Mobile Phone” to prove otherwise. Tilotta’s arpeggiated guitar riff offers a blistering introduction before Fleisig leads the band into driving groove. Again Cacciola’s voice steadily builds until she screams, “You won’t hurt me”, punctuating the song with overwhelming emotion. If “Fuck the Mobile Phone” isn’t the strongest song on Small Stones, it is the song that most embodies the spirit of the record.
As the album progresses, Bellini alternates between discordant noise rock and bombastic guitar riffing. “Exact Distance to the Stars” grinds and pounds its way directly forward, while “Chaser” dodges through arpeggiated guitars and shifting time signatures. Bellini does both styles extremely well, largely due to Giovanna Cacciola’s wailing vocals. It is a hell of a singer who can scream a lyric as simple as, “This is not enough” over and over and make it mean something every time. Because she doesn’t deliver the entire album at full volume, when she does unleash her raspy, half-spoken cries, it is with absolute intensity.
At the end of my first listen I was enamored with this record. Even in its brevity (clocking in at just 30 minutes) Small Stones manages to offer more than most records twice its length. It is a beautiful marriage of melody and dissonance.