Todd Smith is one busy musician. Shortly after the release of Dog Fashion Disco’s latest album Ad Naseum and a month-long tour through October, Smith has come forth with his third LP under the El-Creepo! moniker. Where the previous two El-Creepo! albums treaded a dizzying array of musical styles, Bellissimo! is Smith’s most focused effort thus far. Keying in on a consistent acoustic tone for most of the front-side of the album, Smith presents a soft and smiling cluster of songs with delectable bass guitar and drum work. This cozy feeling emanates from these pieces, carrying a delicate tone which ultimately meanders and becomes lost near the album’s conclusion.
Bellissimo (Italian for lovely) is an accurate description for most of the forty-five minute journey. The album opener “Weight of the World” is marked with Smith’s signature quirky lyrics, narrating random phrases which vaguely relate to one another as he concludes with a hushed chant of the word “goodbye”. His harrowing whisper becomes more sinister with each utterance, leading the listener to believe the following song “Wait for Me” will continue in similar tone. It takes an intriguing turn though and opens with calm keyboards painting a sentimental backdrop for the acoustic guitar melody. Heartfelt lyrics sing quietly about the eternal desire to be there for someone as the midpoint of the song transforms into a lush, gorgeous saxophone warmly pouring over clicking drum cymbals and a thumping bass guitar. As the song concludes with light strums of electric guitar, Smith takes us to his rendition of “Rainbow Connection” where a twanging banjo introduces his radiating smile which permeates through the beautiful lyrics. On “Like a Stray”, Smith maintains the serene tone of previous songs, connecting with the listener about life’s pain and struggles. He sings,
Lend a hand, lend your voice,
Show your love, give it a way,
Don’t be afraid to feel the pain
These lyrics are subtly interwoven with some of Smith’s morbid flair, speaking about rot exposing open wounds. He exhibits tasteful restraint though by maintaining the light tone with tender lyrics which overwhelm the few despairing pictures, making this song a highlight of the album. “Zombie Sun”, however, marks the album’s turning point. A bouncy acoustic melody carries Smith’s croaking vocals to about the half-way mark where an electric rock ‘n roll riff akin to “Bad to the Bone” takes the stage. The song is playful and marked with traditional tonal shifts seen in Smiths’ other projects, but it jars the experience induced from the acoustic-centric songs leading up to it.
The remaining few songs on Bellissimo! continue the electric guitar-based trajectory, where “The Devil Creeps In” opens with acoustic strumming which is mildly interspersed in portions layered throughout the track. The palatable hook in the latter portion is fun, but once “How Quickly They Turn” kicks in, the listener is treated with a heavy plodding song which chugs boringly to its finale. “Tangerine” scrapes together a somewhat interesting chorus comparable to Polkadot Cadaver, though the lyrics feel awkward when Smith repetitively roars “From head to toe, make a meal out of me!” Fortunately, the closer “Sight For Sore Eyes” is a small saving grace, playing a catchy chorus over kicking drums at a toe-tapping beat.
What makes Bellissimo! an intriguing listen is its contrast with Smith’s previous El-Creepo! efforts. The acoustic tone carrying the front half of the album exhibits Smith’s versatility in his continuing body of work, where he elicits subtle feelings of warmth through the interplay of layered instruments and fluid lyrics. The latter set of songs stray from the sentimental tone, leaving the former acoustic tracks a somewhat fleeting memory. Despite the light smoldering of the album near its finale, Smith successfully delivers his most focused El-Creepo! record to date.
Listen to “Rainbow Connection” above; purchase Bellissimo! here.