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HELADO NEGRO

Helado Negro returns with This Is How You Smile, an album that freely flickers between clarity and obscurity, past and present geographies, bright and unhurried seasons. Miami-born, New York-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange embraces a personal and universal exploration of aura – seen, felt, emitted – on his sixth album and second for RVNG Intl. Helado

Negro’s 2016 album "Private Energy", re-released as "Private Energy (Expanded)" in 2017, is an urgent affirmation of self-love and solidarity driven by Lange’s personal response to sanctioned violence towards people of color. The widely embraced album furthered the artist’s visibility beyond a community of fans long established through a rigorous recording and touring career, with moments like “Young, Latin and Proud” and “It’s My Brown Skin” aligning with a larger social demand for basic rights amongst marginalized people and the universal imperative to love, be loved, and thrive.

This Is How You Smile’s opener “Please Won’t Please,” a call back to Private Energy, finds vitality in turning the privacy dial further inward. Setting the scene with a sparse drumbeat that moves the music forward in a more maligned than militant march, Lange’s voice tenderly permits himself weariness: “We light ourselves on fire, just to see if anyone believes.” Something must be reserved, “will anyone rescue what’s left of me.” Diving into glimmering spirals, the remainder of the album takes leave of the broader “we” and mines intimate pairings - siblings, parent / child relationships, partnership, and old friends. The story of This Is How You Smile includes a jaunty, head-nodding walk with his brother on hot pavement to the community pool of his childhood neighborhood in Florida. Such days end with a welcome fatigue and chlorine blurred reveries in “Seen My Aura.” The confidence and security of youth, moves away from family, across years and regions, to a bleak winter of “Imagining What to Do,” and loving partners deciding to make each other smile, while waiting for the sun to return.

This Is How You Smile derives from Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” a story she wrote in the form of a mother’s sole, complicated, but loving voice, speaking a “How to” litany of advice ranging from domestic chores to what a daughter, an immigrant and young woman of color, must do to protect herself in a world that was not designed by or for her. This is how joy, or its visage, at turns comforts, constricts, or becomes armor.

Contemplating a parental voice, or its absence, becomes a question of where one may choose to return or depart. The lyrics of “Running,” seem to retrace the cyclical path of pop’s familiar obsessions, addressing the unrequited, fickle, or feared lover, “I feel you in my mind, all the time… you got me running, running…” Instead, the repetition of fleeing breaks with a languid laugh of recognition, that the lives of those who came before are within one’s own, even when we diverge, “I see you in my hands… just like you.” The song may also be read beyond seeing the humanity of self and parent, to the ever more visible global failures of patriarchal structures, and those moments when one sees their traces in self and those dear. Lange describes the album as the soundtrack of a person approaching you, slowly, for 40 minutes. In “Fantasma Vaga,” one of the first songs he wrote that set his approach for the album, a ghost wanders in from the low end, building a fuller form with each shaking step. Whirring, stops and starts of an eco espectral, may be musician trying to imitate, synthesize, the sound of a haunting, or a ghost itself trying to render the human voice. Lange often visualizes meeting strange beings, the odd encounters that occur in the creative process, a sound form of manipulation, in which who, or what is changing whom, becomes unclear. This Is How You Smile invites listeners on a walk through the changing colors of early mornings and evenings, writing, recording, or hearing a friend, a figure emerges, and there you are.


STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: A superbly balanced mix of rhythmic downbeat, hip-hop percussion and good old fashioned songwriting, 'This Is How You Smile' epitomises how effective a melting pot of styles can be, fittingly for it's subject matter, being all the better for it's diversity and willingness to embrace a wide range of genres to great effect. A perfectly conceived and excellently written opus.

Helado Negro

Private Energy (Expanded)

Exploring the expressivity within intense states of being, Latinx identity, and pluralistic sensibilities, Helado Negro’s Private Energy (Expanded) is an engrossing statement achieved through lyrically personal and political avant pop music.

Private Energy (Expanded) carves a deep groove through the electronic music landscape, challenging to best Brooklyn-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange’s previous accomplishments under the Helado Negro moniker. Half a decade and half a dozen albums later since Helado Negro’s 2009 debut album Awe Owe, Lange has cultivated an untraditional approach to songcraft that places his voice on an adventurous musical impulse without shying from familiar pop appreciation.

The hymn of Private Energy (Expanded) initially sounded in 2014 while Lange absorbed accounts of the unjust death of Michael Brown and felt a sharpened sense of vulnerability and anger as a minority. Lange’s creative drive veered toward toward catharsis - he sought to make music that would protect as a form of protest. The music of Private Energy (Expanded) was shaped to demarcate the artist’s pride of being, preserving and persevering, and celebrating, as Lange puts it, “my brownness, my latinidad.”

For the marginalized, the personal is always political. This truth is not exploited by Lange but used as a platform to examine fluidity in love and amongst various genders. Singing “porque soy una mujer, porque sigo siendo tu hombre”, (“because I’m a woman, because I’m still your man”), on “Tartamudo,” Lange subverts the expectations of the “latino man,” embracing instead a genderless expression of affection and sexuality. And yet the title “Tartamudo” means to stutter; Lange acknowledges the challenge of articulating one’s progressive ideals and the personal demands of stewarding the Helado Negro project.

“Transmission Listen” is another exemplary selection from Private Energy (Expanded), a song so effortlessly tuneful and seductive it sounds beamed in from the radio waves of an outer world. Or alternately, an inner world. Speckled and reverberant, it’s a love song as much as a purely joyful sonic experience. “Young, Latin, and Proud” and “It’s My Brown Skin” are prideful lyrically but complicated texturally, fusing restrained synthesizer voicings with sparse percussion and an interpolation of rhythmic tones. Here, as elsewhere, though, Lange’s distinct voice is the spine of the music’s ambulatory energy.

Though Helado Negro is essentially a solo project, the contributors to Private Energy were numerous, demonstrating Lange’s compassion for community and collaboration. In line, the lyrics to “It’s My Brown Skin” work as a central tenet of Private Energy (Expanded) and an intimate invitation to the varied cast involved and surrounding. Identity is celebrated as a possible personal shelter of sorts, yet complicated and humbly inclusive within abstract territories - i.e. the real and surreal worlds, inhabited by fellow humans and those that don’t identify as human alike.

“My brown me is the shade that’s just for me / I’m never not missing anything but me, “the song’s lyrics state, offering insight into the infinite possible variations for individuality and self-invention that animates the music and ethos of Private Energy (Expanded).

Helado Negro’s Private Energy will be re-introduced to the public via RVNG Intl. in expanded form on May 5, 2017, appearing on vinyl for the first time alongside new CD and digital editions. Supplemented with three brand new “versions,” this iteration of Private Energy (Expanded) will continue the strong narrative of Helado Negro’s spectral and transmissive 2016 opus

RIYL: Tim Maia, Caetano Veloso, Stereolab, Empress Of, Xenia Rubinos Private Energy (Expanded) is remastered, redesigned, and expanded with three brand new versions.

Helado Negro

Invisible Life

Press play on ‘Invisible Life’ and you lose your season. Roberto Lange - Helado Negro - is talking to you in Spanish. He’s talking to you, perhaps with more volume, in the language he’s been teaching us all over the past three years through the lessons of the seductive full length ‘Canta Lechuza’, the sub-narrative exploration EP ‘Island Universe Story One’, and the all-in collaboration, ‘OMBRE’, with Juliana Barwick.

Jon Philpot, The Bear In Heaven frontman, is one of a few key contributions on the album, including more old friends like Eduardo Alonso (Feathers) and Matt Crum (Lange’s longtime bandmate in ROM), as well as kindred and vast spirit Devendra Banhart. Banhart’s guitar on ‘Arboles’ multiplies the whispered dream of Helado Negro into Technicolor parallel existences.

Helado Negro is Roberto Carlos Lange, sometime collaborator of Scott Herren in Savath & Savalas and occasional conspirator with Jaytram of Yeasayer.

Whilst his last full length, ‘Awe Owe’, was a Funkadelican mega-opus, this is a more personal beast, a solo affair built lovingly from live instruments, percussion, and field recordings, all processed through electronics, computers, and synthesizers. It is an album with very defined songs, its song-structure has been laboured over; choruses count bigtime, confident breakdowns and digi-pop bridges are all part and parcel of the greater good.

His voice recalls ‘China Girl’-era David Bowie; a relaxed and tropical Peter Gabriel (or even Peter Murphy).


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