For "Crookcrank," the Southwestern Ontario trip-hop pop band creates a hypnotic fever dream of mythic proportions.
Photo by Austin Gibson
Following up the groovy, noir orchestral pop-meets-trip hop they offered on their self-titled sophomore release—in campaigning behind new album III—Toronto/Guelph/Grey County's Del Bel has offered a number of delightful mutations, and the twists keep coming. After lead single "Do What The Bass Says" took a hard turn into hip-hop with rising Toronto rapper Clairmont the Second delivering a verse, on "Crookcrank" they are unleashing a different kind of monster—recasting the mythical Kraken as a misunderstood, cat-like creature that simply went to all those boats it shipwrecked looking for friends it could play with.
Since then, the track's taken on a life of its own, reanimated here in a feverish new video built on visuals from Tel-Aviv-based artist Gili Avissar and stitched together by LA film editor Jeremy Weinstein. The concept fueling its design is still a mystery to the band. Flickering away in restless, shapeshifting stop motion and time lapse photography, it's as much a sizzle reel for Avissar's artistic practice. It is an atmospheric riff that mirrors the creeping tempo of the song. Avissar's bottomless well of creations seemingly materialize out of thin air, evolving in convulsive bursts and decaying in magical fits of combustion while Del Bel's tiptoed dub bass and foggy horn flourishes drift into the unknown. Winch systems give birth to giant arachnids, and carrots become subliminal dicks.
Speaking over Skype, Del Bel songwriter Lisa Conway (L Con) and composer/bandleader Tyler Belluz talk about the video, the new record, and why the band's sound lends itself so well to cinematic applications.
Watch the video below:
Noisey: Gili Avissar made the visuals for this—how did that come about?
Tyler Belluz: This was completely based off of my friend Jeremy Weinstein, who edited the video. He's a film editor in LA and he's been a huge fan of Gili's for a while. His work has never been seen in North America and Jeremy actually did all the grunt work himself. He contacted Gili, he asked for specific scenes, and put it all together.
Lisa Conway: I'm really excited. I was not familiar with [Avissar's] work at all until yesterday. I didn't even know that this video was being made. So I'm just kind of wrapping my head around everything. I love experimentation and I love that he's using such tactile, textured materials and recycled materials. It's always interesting to let people have free reign. And you have to let go as a songwriter.
Lisa, this is a song inspired by the Kraken and… your cats?
Conway: Yeah! I had just adopted two wild kittens and when I was doing writing for the Del Bel album, I was also just trying to get these two cats to come out of the basement and hang out with me. And the way that I was able to charm them was through play. And I don't know why I was reading about the Kraken, but I was imagining the Kraken as being this scary and destructive monster that secretly had good intentions and just wanted to play with boats but was just so gigantic that it ended up destroying things, so I think that is actually reflected in the video—this playful, but with dark results kind of narrative.
How does this gel with what's going on with the rest of the album, thematically or otherwise?
Conway: The album as a whole doesn't have an overall thematic coherency just because I wrote these songs at a time that I was writing a lot of other things for the CFC [Canadian Film Centre] as well, so I was kind of just trying to find anything to write about—any sort of jumping point. But I'm always kind of seeking out old mythological influences in the Del Bel material because it's so cinematic.
Belluz: Lisa and I's perspectives are always quite different because of the way we process the songs and the cohesiveness that I hear is the trip hop feel. I was trying to replicate and the tones that are prevalent in this specific song and in others are definitely influenced from the golden era of hip-hop in the mid-90s. Kind of when I first started to really dive into hip-hop in middle school. [A Tribe Called Quest], Mobb Deep, even the Bad Boy Records stuff. There's definitely a certain tonal quality that I really enjoy even today from that era of music.
The trip hop thing was a natural progression out of my love of hip-hop and the music already being cinematic. It just sort of naturally went in that direction.
So when people talk about Del Bel's music as this "cinematic," "noir" thing, you're comfortable with those labels.
Belluz: For sure. The only label I really don't like is the jazz label. There's not one single note [in Del Bel's music] that was intended to sound like jazz or was even a jazz chord, so any time I read that I always pull my hair out.
Conway: Sorry Tyler, I sang too much Billie Holiday in school. I mean, the birth of the project comes from a film score. It comes from a recycled film score, so I think cinematic is a very apt label in a lot of ways. When [Del Bel] started, Tyler wrote this film score, and then wanted to turn all of the instrumental pieces into songs and then asked me to write pop lines and lyrics for all of them. And that was kind of how the project started, as a studio thing. And then it kind of evolved into a band from there. Even if it wasn't necessarily intentional, I feel like the second record… the first record, I hadn't even met some of the band members before, so it was a very separate studio experience, and honestly I thought I would never play those songs live, I was just kind of doing Tyler a favour. And I think after you play in a room with people—even if that isn't necessarily always reflected in the studio process, there's an audible chemistry that comes about, and for the second record it felt like an actual band instead of a kind of one off thing.
Del Bel plays London, ON's Grickle Grass Festival May 27.
Tom Beedham is a freelance arts and culture journalist living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.