For this session, Roberto Carlos Lange rolled into Lovebird Recording with a synthesizer and his voice. With minimal exception, these are the very tools he used when he tucked himself away in rural Connecticut to record a new album with a fresh sound. Canta Lechuza was the result. It is a sparser, even more intimate collection of songs than anything he has previously done under the Helado Negro name or any of his other projects (ROM, Epstein, Boom & Birds). Lange, a Brooklynite by way of South Florida and the child of Ecuadoran immigrants, has a special knack for creating sensuous, intoxicating moods utilizing little more than the synthesizer and a haunting croon. The songs that result wouldn’t be out of place accompanying almost any scene to a Sofia Coppola or even a David Lynch film. The majority of Canta Lechuza and the entirety of this session strike me as the soundtrack to all hours drives on desolate highways through sprawling, sleeping cityscapes and but a handful of blinking lights guiding the way forward. I hear electronic wayfaring hymns: the sounds of midnight boats drifting towards shore, a vagabond approaching a mountain refuge with a glowing porch light.
As certain as I am of the highs that Helado Negro songs give native Spanish speaking fans, I am equally sure non-bilingual listeners will stumble upon the fortuitous discovery of Lange’s voice being an irreplaceable instrument in his sensibly limited orchestra. Even with five and a half years of Spanish under my belt (albeit I learned most of it a decade ago), I won’t pretend to know all of the lyrics or meanings of Lange’s songs. Instead, I adore his restrained, almost wounded croon and his warm, shimmering beats. A personal highlight of this session comes in the final thirty seconds of “Paz a Ti”, a song from Helado Negro’s 2010 mini-album, Pasajero. Check out the dwindling, almost dying, metronome rhythm sounding like final glorious breaths drifting away into a pulsating metallic beat of a throbbing heart which fades and then uncoils into an electronic burst to parts unknown. “Globitos”, the lead track off Canta Lechuza, showcases a beat that creates a waltzing, crystalline haze as a backdrop for Lange’s near spoken word delivery and soft croon, not to mention the addictive ooh-ooh melody at the chorus. His use of the synthesizer is perhaps most impressive here on “Time Aparts”, as he generates an electronic fuzz that mysteriously fuses with his haunting vocals to bloom into a kaleidoscopic wilderness rather than the white noise that would unquestionably be the outcome in lesser hands. That Lange is so adept at creating a sound so simultaneously angelic, funereal and futuristic is a marvel.
Helado Negro, on this session and the whole of Canta Lechuza, brings to mind another recognizable indie rock favorite of ours here at Laundromatinee, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Lange’s retreat to a rural Connecticut cabin to record a collection of exquisitely intimate songs complements Vernon’s Wisconsin isolation and artistic breakthrough on For Emma, Forever Ago. Based on critical reviews and fan reactions to Bon Iver’s self-titled release this year, I don’t think it would be a stretch to make a case for 2011 so far being the year of Bon Iver in indie music. Vernon and the talented army of eight others made that quite apparent when I caught their glorious live set back in July. Some fans, myself included, are quite taken with the dense majesty of the self-titled album’s arrangements but would be disingenuous in not confessing to missing a bit of the solitude and much of the melody on For Emma, Forever Ago. For those in love with the first album and coming around to loving the new album, I would make a case for Helado Negro’s Canta Lechuza being a bridge between those songs of gutted intimacy and those of electronic experimentations in complex arrangements.
In this session, Roberto Carlos Lange provides the deceptively simple gift of three solo songs clocking in at just over nine minutes. The surprise comes after unwrapping: nine minutes of mysterious and nourishing electronic bliss that will keep you sated long after you take off the headphones.
Recorded and Mixed by Corey Barnes at Lovebird Recording
Filmed and Edited by Daniel Arthur
Written by Justin Wesley