Del Bel III

[Missed Connection; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: pop noir, trip-hop, art-pop
Others: David Axelrod, Tara King th., Timber Timbre, Portishead, Broadcast

Who knows what Del Bel tolls? As ever, their third and most recent full-length as of this writing, III, sees the combined talents of eccentric lead composer Tyler Belluz, commanding future-pop vocalist and visionary Lisa Conway, and a veritable army of Toronto’s finest weirdos gravitating around their distinctive core of cinematic art-pop and smoldering trip-hop. It’s a treat for fans of David Axelrod, Broadcast, Tara King th., and the like, leading here to new yet oddly familiar dimensions of sound.

Granted, III starts out with a couple shaky tracks. To its credit, “Do What the Bass Says” does branch out of the Del Bel sound, truly putting the hop in their trip of a collaboration with up-and-coming Toronto rapper Clairmont the Second. But while they hooked up with Clairmont organically (via the well-curated Wavelength concert series), the results unfortunately sound forced here. “Crookcrank,” the following track, has all the ingredients of eerie awesomeness — circular bassline, staccato strings, synth glissandi, delayed wood block, a smattering of horns — but the melody is too mellow and the drum beat too static to be memorable or hold up on repeated listens.

But then we hit track three, and as the drunk baritone sax, stumbling beat, and descending strings and brass of “Only Breathing” strike the perfect balance between the dark cinematography of Timber Timbre and the unsettling dirge of Portishead, it all comes into focus. “Only Breathing” is a seven-minute-long suite, and it earns every moment. It takes you on the journey for which “Crookcrank” was a mere brochure. All the hip, noir flotsam and jetsam comes together on that gorgeously grotesque epic.

From this point on, III is unstoppable. “If I Was a Fool” has all of the creepy ingredients that makes their pop noir so dank, yet its vibe is surprisingly plucky. The bass and percussion practically skip with joy. Even as Conway dances with the devil, it’s got pep, and the energy from that seems to carry through the seductive sway of “Shapeshifters.” Later, the horror-rock romp of “Put Me to Bed with a Shovel” brings back a serious tone, which is taken all the way home by the soul-searching, gently uplifting finale ballad of “Maybe There’ll Be a Lightness.”

While III may not quite have the overall replay value of their endlessly brilliant self-titled sophomore effort from 2015, it has much aural gold for mix-tapers to mine indeed, and the occult-ish cover art of Madison van Rijn is arguably the best yet to grace a Del Bel release. Sorry, it’s not available on CD because CD. But Del Bel is best owned on vinyl anyway. This is music to sit down and light a candle for.

Most Read