One of producer and singer/songwriter Roberto Carlos Lange's numerous monikers, Helado Negro's evocative ambient pop songs honor his Ecuadorian heritage and the diverse sounds he heard while growing up in Florida. On early albums such as 2009's Awe Owe, Lange's blend of folk, jazz, electronic, and Latin elements felt like a natural evolution from his collaborations with Prefuse 73 and Savath & Savalas. As time went on, Helado Negro's tone poems grew increasingly focused and eloquent. Lange delved into childhood memories on 2014's Double Youth and earned a wider audience with 2016's Private Energy, thanks in part to the singles "Young, Latin and Proud" and "It's My Brown Skin." On 2019's This Is How You Smile, he reflected on the complex relationship between immigrant parents and their children in poetic and timely ways. Born in South Florida in 1980 to Ecuadorian parents, Lange grew up listening to Miami bass and electro music while living in a Caribbean neighborhood. Later, he studied computer art and animation at Georgia's Savannah College of Art and Design, where he also began making music in earnest after studying sound design and audio programs in his classes. He made his recording debut in the early 2000s, when he released music under a few different names, most notably ROM (a collaboration with drummer Matt Crum), Epstein, and Boom & Birds. The eponymous album ROM (2005) on Wimm Recordings is a compilation of Lange's collaborations with Crum dating back to 2000. He was most prolific as Epstein, releasing the full-length albums Puñal (2004), Gente Sin Pueblo (2005), Canto de Hermanos (2007), and Otros (2008); the former two were on the label Botanica del Jibaro, the latter two on Arepaz. As Boom & Birds, he released the album Camino de Manos Chuecas (2005) on Arepaz. After moving to Brooklyn, New York, in 2006, Lange began a fruitful collaboration with Guillermo Scott Herren, earning co-production credits on the Prefuse 73 releases The Class of 73 Bells (2007) and Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (2009) on Warp Records, plus the Savath & Savalas album La Llama (2009) on Stones Throw. In the wake of these high-profile releases in collaboration with Herren, Lange made his album debut as Helado Negro with Awe Owe (2009) on Asthmatic Kitty. A highly collaborative effort, Awe Owe featured input from Herren, former ROM collaborator Crum (also of Feathers), Jon Philpot (the frontman of Bear in Heaven), and numerous others. By contrast, Lange recorded Helado Negro's second album, 2011's Canta Lechuza ("Owl Singing"), after holing up in a cabin in Connecticut. That year also saw the release of another Epstein album, Sealess See. In 2012, Lange collaborated with Julianna Barwick as OMBRE, releasing the album Believe You Me. Invisible Life, which featured Lange singing in English as well as Spanish, arrived in early 2013. Helado Negro returned in 2014 with Double Youth, a nostalgic, home-recorded set of songs that took inspiration from a poster he had owned since childhood and rediscovered while cleaning out a closet. In 2015, collaborators including Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier and Wilco's Mikael Jorgensen helped bring songs from Helado Negro's Island Universe Story cassette series to St. Paul, Minnesota's Ordway Concert Hall as Island Universe Story: Selected Works. The following year, all three volumes of Island Universe Story -- which were released between 2012 and 2014 -- were issued as a compilation by Asthmatic Kitty. Helado Negro's next album was preceded by a pair of singles, 2015's "Young, Latin & Proud" and "It's My Brown Skin," reflecting the themes of Latin pride and cultural awareness found on the rest of Private Energy. Informed by '70s Latin soul and dub, the album appeared in October 2016. That year, Helado Negro released the Island Universe Story Four EP, which Lange followed with the Adult Swim single "Come Be Me" in 2018. The following March, Lange issued Helado Negro's sixth album This Is How You Smile, a set of songs that expanded on Private Energy's themes with a more atmospheric approach. A portion of the album's proceeds went to the immigrants' rights organization United We Dream. ~ Jason Birchmeier
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 8, 2019 | RVNG Intl.
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Considering how Private Energy positively beamed thanks to radiant songs like "It's My Brown Skin" and "Young, Latin and Proud," the title of Helado Negro's sixth album could come as a surprise. However, on This Is How You Smile, Roberto Carlos Lange finds ways to sustain a sense of identity, family, and love when that energy runs low. For these strong yet tender songs, Lange drew inspiration from Jamaica Kincaid's short story "Girl," in which an immigrant mother gives her daughter instructions on how to survive and thrive in a world that wasn't made for her. Lange's flair for imagery is just as deft as any author's: He sets the album's mood with "Please Won't Please," sounding weary but resilient as he sings "Lifelong history shows that brown won't go/Brown just glows" over a scuffed beat and luminous synths. On "Imagining What to Do," he sings of "waiting for the glow again," portraying joy, pride, and strength as resources that may flicker, but never fade away entirely. On these songs and throughout This Is How You Smile, Lange couples the evocative music at which he's always excelled with gorgeously insightful lyrics. He's grown into a subtly powerful songwriter over the years, and he's at the peak of his powers on "Pais Nublado," where the way its conversation between Spanish-speaking elders and English-speaking children flows adds to its poignancy. On "Running," he deals with these complicated and inescapable relationships with grace, setting his musings to a piano melody that's as warm and effortless as a sunbeam. The album's discourse includes not just the character's in Lange's songs, but Helado Negro's entire body of work. Along with shades of Private Energy, This Is How You Smile evokes the shadowy intimacy of Canta Lechuza and, on "Seen My Aura," the distant, sunny childhood memories of Double Youth. As always, the ambient side of Helado Negro's music is just as eloquent as Lange's songwriting, and interludes such as "Sabana de Luz" and the festive sounds of "My Real Name Is for My Friends" add to the album's hazy, lived-in warmth. While his advice to "take care of people today" on "Two Lucky" is the closest he gets to giving his listeners directives like Kincaid's, the sustenance Lange offers with these songs is more delicate than Private Energy's anthems, but just as necessary. A winning combination of his long-standing and more recently developed gifts, This Is How You Smile is a culmination of Helado Negro's work and completely relevant to when it was released. ~ Heather Phares
Alternative & Indie - Released May 5, 2017 | RVNG Intl.
Helado Negro's Roberto Carlos Lange has always honored his roots in his music, blending his Ecuadorian heritage with the diverse sounds he heard while growing up in Florida. This celebration feels even more vital on Private Energy, Lange's response to the politically charged climate of the late 2010s. Where previous Helado Negro albums seemed to exist just to capture fleeting moments of beauty, this time Lange trades blissful drifting for something more intentional. Just as his music is rooted in his heritage, he gives Private Energy solid foundations to withstand tumultuous times. "Tartamundo" is grounded by brassy synths and a driving but distant beat, while "Lengua Larga"'s driven fusion of synth-pop and funk signals the album's strength in subtle but unmistakable ways. When Lange gets explicitly political, the lightness of his music complements the gravity of the issues he's discussing, allowing his words to slide into listeners' ears and linger. One of the album's much-loved singles, "It's My Brown Skin," telegraphs its resiliency and pride with its buoyant beat; another, "Young Latin & Proud," sings the praises of heritage and "knowing you will be you for the rest of your life." Lange explores the complicated politics of relationships with as much eloquence, whether on "Transmission Listen"'s joyous making up or "Runaround"'s strength in tenderness. While there are plenty of reminders of Lange's carefree side, Private Energy introduces pressing issues into his work in ways that feel genuine, and the results prove to be some of his most complete and complex music yet. ~ Heather Phares
Alternative & Indie - Released September 2, 2014 | Asthmatic Kitty
The dreamy soundworlds Roberto Carlos Lange created on Awe Owe and Invisible Life were steeped in a nostalgic haze that, in theory, seems like a perfect fit for Double Youth, which was inspired by a long-lost poster he discovered while cleaning out a closet in his childhood home. While Lange's fondness for gauzy sounds is definitely on display on his fourth album, it also features some of his most direct and funky songs yet. He conveys Double Youth's childlike essence with bouncy melodies and rhythms, like the hopscotching beat on "It's Our Game" and the playful swing of "Ojos Que No Ven," both of which embody youth rather than looking back on it longingly. Throughout the album, Lange moves between past and present -- "Myself on 2 U" and "That Shit Makes Me Sad" have a distinctly grown-up perspective -- and Spanish and English with a seamlessness that's all the more impressive for how effortless it sounds. "Friendly Arguments" and "Queriendo" give the drifting feel of Helado Negro's earlier work a more purposeful pulse, but Double Youth's standouts are remarkably streamlined. "I Krill You" gets listeners' attention with its echoing beats, heavy bass, and brassy coda; "Triangulate"'s wavering bassline nods in dubstep's general direction in a way that's more spellbinding than heavy-handed; and "Invisible Heartbeat" sets soulful harmonies afloat a rolling rhythm section. If this is the direction Lange takes on future Helado Negro albums, it's an exciting development indeed. ~ Heather Phares
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