With 'Wonder,' Belly Lemos' Glitch-Heavy Hand Brings Modern Balance to Mellow Pop

 Evan Dale // Oct 7, 2020 

Few if any artists have explored more of the wide reaches in their own aesthetic through the past few years than Billy Lemos. It’s a trait of the mellow pop brand, where artists with a highly acute knack for crafting a unique spin on pop have emerged – in response to also boasting a highly restricted budget by comparison with studio pop stars of the past – through the availability of technology and music sharing platforms. All-in-one creative powerhouses, who, too, find creative range and strength in fervent collaboration, have reinvented the easy-listening corners of pop sensitivity to feel a little – or a lot – more niche arthouse. And even among the other names that come to mind – Still Woozy, Omar Apollo, Dijon, Maxwell Young, ROLE MODEL, Gus Dapperton, Mellow Fellow – Billy Lemos is a broader enigma.


With Wonder, it’s finally all on exhibition in a neat yet messy little collection that speaks first and foremost to the wrought bizarre from where it all was rooted. En route to his debut record, Lemos experimented wildly with everything from electronically true to hip-hop heavy. And though the experimentation certainly hasn’t subsided with Wonder’s length, it has grown more refined, if only in its defiance to refinement and boxing in, in general. To wit, Wonder can only really be stylized as Lemos.


Its presence calls only one name from Lemos’ past: Still Woozy. Every other guest, in a project where nine out of ten tracks boast features, is a new addition to his canon revolving around the greater Wonder sphere. And yet, for an artist in a stylistic spectrum so directed by the artistic direction of features, a grander Lemos grandeur persists from beginning to end, etching a strong creative presence on every corner of his debut’s aesthetic.


Wonder’s signature is one delineated by a twitchy, high-fidelity leaning towards a sonic space where the electronically nuanced distorts the expressly organic nature of its features at varying degrees. Sometimes, like in Midlife Crisis, the featuring vocalist – in this case, Tati – edges on as a produced instrument in her own right; whereas in other tracks, like For Me, artists like Jonah Mutono breathe with crystalline vocals that only occasionally fall victim to Billy Lemos’ underlying glitch.


Lemos aside, if only from the forefront of the project at large, one outlying name brings a certain well-roundedness to the project as second string. And that’s MTMBO. The unparalleled vocalist, whose own work is drenched in the emotional gravity of his voice, adds two contradicting moments to the Wonder of it all: smoothly entrenched in his acoustic rawness through If You Won’t, I Will; sampled and distorted to open the record’s titular inclusion (from his own track, Torn). The brash juxtaposition in MTMBO’s two credits speaks to the contrasting aesthetic of Wonder at large, where Lemos – as composer – is at constant odds with his creative self, occasionally allowing organic explosions of his talented friends; at others violently distorting their craft to create something altogether new and unimagined by just about anyone else in music.


And in that juxtaposition lies Lemos’ continued evolution; lies Wonder’s encapsulated aesthetic that, too, encapsulates the sounds of modernity where a stretched argument between the organic and the electronic; between the acoustic and the produced speaks most clearly to a likely listener’s reality.