reviewed by Michael Thomas
Since the moody Oneiric, Del Bel has always excelled at a certain kind of cinematic sound, like it could be the soundtrack to a film noir picture. Del Bel crystallized that sound on their self-titled record two years ago, and by all means they could have rested on their laurels and produced exactly the same record many more times.
But on III, they branch out while still retaining that same sound and sense of mystery in Lisa Conway’s lyrics. In some cases, that branching out means embracing more electronic elements, in others, it means pushing their sound almost into rock territory.
One of their bold moves comes right in the opener, in the first single “Do What the Bass Says.” Alongside creepy synths and repeating guitars, the song could have just been another mysterious entry in their catalogue, but the song manages to incorporate an unexpected guest verse from rapper Clairmont the Second. It’s surprising, but it also fits the mood perfectly.
“Put Me to Bed With a Shovel” is the aforementioned rock-leaning song, and the heavier atmosphere pushes Lisa Conway to give her strongest vocal performance of the record. As if the image of being “put to bed” in that way isn’t creepy enough, Conway repeats “I’m buried alive.”
Speaking of buried alive, Del Bel keeps up the darkness on this record. “If I Was a Fool” is full of lyrics about dark energy, and there’s something deeply creepy about “Crookcrank” and Conway singing “You forgot me in the ice.” One of the album standouts, “Katie,” is about a woman who may or may not be a ghost.
It all wraps up with “Maybe There’ll Be a Lightness,” with instrumentation so spare that you can almost hear the buzzing of an amp. It’s probably the closest thing Del Bel will have to a ballad, and it’s a way of showing that they can be haunting in ways other than by laying on the film noir atmosphere.
Top Tracks: “Do What the Bass Says”; “Katie”; “Put Me to Bed With a Shovel”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)