There has quite evidently been one band, one album and one singer with a romanticised woodland backstory on everyone’s lips this week; occupying all the newspaper and magazine column inches and flooding every inch of blog-roll. It is, then, quite unlucky for Asthmatic Kitty that they send out a press release in which they describe one of their most exciting artists as having “opened the door to his forest cabin” for us to “come in from the cold” just a mere seven days post-Bon Iver – Bon Iver.
Like Justin Vernon before him, Roberto Lange‘s story (the man behind the Helado Negro alias) reads like this: man goes into woods, man spends every waking hour alone turning cosmic calm into musical song, records results, returns enlightened and releases album. It may sound like a worn and cliched tale, and it is, but in these two exceptional cases the trodden path produced exceptional results. Both brilliant but extremely different albums. In 2009 Vernon walked away with a masterpiece laced in acoustic intimacy, here Helado Negro conjures a sonic stargaze. If For Emma, Forever Ago was Vernon high around a campfire, Canta Lechuza is Lange on acid, studying the movement of the midnight sky.
Helado Negro is the newest and now central focus of the many musical ventures of Lange’s, the former of which include the band Savath y Savalas, a hazy psychedelic dreamscape of effects and samples, the frantic beats of solo project Epstein and a hypnotic post-rock collaboration with Matt Crum released under the moniker ROM. These are a far cry from the artist’s 2009 release Awe Owe, his Latin folk debut under the new name. All of the musician’s past acts all remain differing enough to warrant separate aliases but overlap each other with a shared interest in the intricate details of sound, both digital and acoustic, and their ability to shape and display emotions, atmosphere and moods.
Cross-phonic experimentation was clearly on Lange’s mind when he was away from the urbanised world and left alone in the wilderness of Connecticut, as the album sees him try to align the electronic corners of his back catalogue with the more linear song structures displayed on his first album. ‘Calculas’, one of the more electronic tracks, exhibits warping and warbling bass that ping-pongs between either ears and merges somewhere in the middle, while ’2º Dia’ and ‘Regretta’ occupy the positions of lead single candidates; songs more traditional in form but no less experimental in sound, with onomatopoeic choruses that breaks down the language divide of Helado Negro’s Spanish tongue.
Lange’s objective in finding a true manifestation of all that has come before pays off to varying degrees. At places the wild beats and bass that at times seem overpowering in his work as Epstein here seem to have found a home, wrapped in arching rhythms and covered in the Ecuadorian’s crooning vocals. ‘Globitos’ begins the album perfectly with an almost Sigur Ros-like atmospheric hum, before the submerged bass and the minimalist drums scrape at the surface. But on other, albeit less frequent, occasions Lange’s ambitions narrowly miss. Take ‘Oreja De Arena’ as one example, where singer and samples appear jarringly out of sync.
Yet the album shows an artist making an album for himself, or better yet for the music. As with everything he has produced to date, the album is solely on Lange’s terms. It is not born out of record label pressure and is as much made for its listeners as it is a representation of sounds that the artist himself wants to hear. Canta Lechuza shows a struggle between Lange and his own influences yet somehow manages to result in a record of such natural fluidity.