By Gerald Fitzgerald, Contributor
If the band Beli were a car, they’d be a 1974 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Not a lowrider, but a nice vintage ride with the potential to be converted into one. The body of the car is painted orange copper candy pearl, but the roof’s exterior is a seamless white. On the dashboard is a laminated image of the virgin Santa Maria. Hanging from the rear view mirror are two Royal Pine car fresheners. A purple LED mood light lines the inner rim of the car’s roof. When this car drives by during the day, one would expect it to serenade a quiet suburb with the classic trumpets emblematic of musica ranchera. But at night, when the LED lights are turned on, this car looks like the wheels could invert and turn into jet engines. You’re more likely to find this car parked on a cul-de-sac, windows up, with the faint sound of Lil Peep playing.
This imagery is familiar to anyone from Los Angeles. The culture of Los Angeles hasn’t always been tied to SUGARFISH or Teslas. Los Angeles was once a ‘64 Chevy Impala playing “California Love” because Power 106 and Big Boy’s Neighborhood said, “Why the f— not?” Los Angeles was the Guisados taco truck parked next to a gas station in Highland Park serving mostly locals on their lunch breaks. This is the Los Angeles that Beli band members, Hessed, Jesse and Moisés, remember.
The members of Beli come from eclectic Latinx roots. Hessed is Guatemalan and Mexican. Moises is Colombian and Salvadoran. Jesse is full Mexican. Los Angeles is often described as a “melting pot” of backgrounds and cultures. Naturally, this diverse exposure has carried over into their music. Their production style draws elements from hip-hop, dream pop, reggaeton, house, cumbia and others. Their lyrics often vacillate between Spanish and English, naturally beaconing the fashionable duality of their own Latinx-American foundations.
Last year, the group dropped their first eponymous EP. With the Beli EP, the band embraced a more laidback vibe. The EP blends the relaxed tempo of vapor-wave with the digestible layered production style of bedroom pop. Each track beams through amber rusted curtains, melting you further into the couch as if you ate one too many Sour Patch Kid edibles in 103 degree weather. The band then went on to release a few loosies. Each release remained in sync with the band’s steady progression and openness to add branches to their tree of influence.
The group’s second and latest offering, Dark Street Melodies, is their most imaginative and cohesive project yet. With Dark Street Melodies, Beli has successfully captured an aesthetic that can only be envisioned by three LA-born ’90s babies. It’s a humble mash of influences ranging from Blood Orange to Drain Gang. Beli’s sound is uniquely characterized by its embolden production, layering ebullient arpeggiation with heavy trap drums and 808s. One could identify the steady kick of Toro y Moi, the calming ambience salaami joe rose louis and the energetic trap snares of Yung Lean.
The album begins with a track entitled Ambiento, as the group announces their intentions to create textures and establish mood using ambient sound. The beat is instigated at around 540 bpm like a leaky washroom faucet concealing strong water pressure. Claps arrive on the downbeat like Spanish dancers doing the fandango, giving the fast-paced track a juke-inspired rhythm before welcoming the first chord and the eventual vocalists. The intro feels like a jolt from a defibrillator, meant to wake one up from a deep coma of lucid dreaming.
Pndtype conjures up a similar dreamy state, beginning with synths reminiscent of a ’90s crime film before settling into a Xanax nap. The vocals on “Pndtype” evoke a saucy seraphic saunter, as I suspect it will quite literally be best enjoyed on a slow stroll through the City of Angels on a cool summer’s day. The mood of “Adore” isn’t too distant from “Pndtype.” Adore enters a celestial space, treating the stars like raindrops, still to glistens like Sauce Walka’s diamond teardrop implant. The charm of “Adore” is that it carries the lyrical cadence of a nursery rhyme intended to be too catchy for you to ever forget. Adore exits with a synthesized vocal solo you would expect from Malcolm Cecil on two tabs of acid.
For me, “East Bay Shorty” is a standout on the EP. The first half of the song is an alt-pop anthem for every mixed girl wearing thrift store overalls and a pair of Nike Air Max 90s while sitting around Lake Merritt under cloud scattered sun rays. The latter half is a vibey breakdown that Chaz Bundick would surely jam out to.
The album aptly melts away through the tracks “Helice” and “Bala.” The prior sets the stage for the latter to be an emotional and introspective final exit. In Helice, Beli drags the low end of the EQ to create a dreary melody enlivened by cumbia-inspired rhythms. In “Bala,” each member of Beli delivers a verse, tackling notions of love and loneliness. Here, perhaps the album’s most summative lyric is delivered by Moises: “I could feel God tweaking off a pill / I’m fulfilled”.
Beli truly carves out a unique soundscape with Dark Street Melodies. The elements that unify each track are a tasteful meeting of Mndsgn’s “Due Mantra“, Cuco’s “Hydrocodone” and Bladee’s “Frosty the Snowman“. The genres this album fits under are either limitless or nonexistent. Somehow, Beli has created an album in which alt-pop, alt-rock, indie dream pop, emo rap, cloud rap, glitch-punk, digicore, fairy pop may not be descriptive enough. To me, this sends a clear message to listeners not to bother with boxing them in under one genre. Art can be abstract and nonlinear, best consumed through emotive pathways rather than logical ones. And Beli is clearly in the business of creating art.