Helado Negro – “This Is How You Smile” Album Review

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Ever since 2017’s “Despacito” phenomenon, latin music has started to infiltrate and permeate the mainstream consciousness, from American culture’s open embrace of latin trap, to a vindication of values long ignored by the world at large. Enter Helado Negro, the stage name for Roberto Carlos Lange, an Ecuadorian-American electronic musician that fashioned his latest full length after personal and social struggles regarding race and identity, as opening track Please Won’t Please states: “lifelong history shows that brown won’t go, brown just glows.”

Fine-tuning a unique sound

Lange’s sound has gradually morphed since his 2011 debut Canta Lechuza and, after being taken in by Sufjan Stevens New York label Asthmatic Kitty, Helado Negro’s music has slowly turned into one of the most captivating voices making music at the time. Shifting between english and music like he has always done, This Is How You Smile’s highlights are often unpredictable language-wise and take unexpected turns such as the lovely NYC folk fingerpicker “Imagining What to Do” or the beautifully haunting “Fantasma Vaga”, but the real stunner here is probably “Seen My Aura”, one of Lange’s best tracks so far, which sees him dominating the sound he has spent so many years crafting with such patience.

No single material

The album doesn’t really deliver single-wise, and it is truly made to be consumed as one piece, seeing that each of the album’s tracks flow into each other perfectly and seamlessly. The first cut to be released from the album, “Pais Nublado”, was a bilingual acoustic strummer that called back to old Brazilian music, but didn’t really offer much in terms of a big pop chorus or an identifiable hook, exposing Lange’s true talent; his hooks are the timbres and soundscapes he crafts and controls and melodies used to only pop up accidentally. However, Lange’s management of his own melodies has improved significantly and these songs sound more fully-formed than ever before.

His name is for his friends

Album highlights “Seen My Aura” and “My Name is For My Friends” are probably the best songs Lange has ever written for his project and call back to his past catalogue’s most triumphant moments, such as the funkiness in “Transmission Listen” and “It’s My Brown Skin” from 2016’s Private Energy, or “Are I Here” from 2014’s Double Youth.

Lange proves that Latin artists are here to stay in the mainstream and are not only a passing fashion act. Latin music can certainly be as popular and culturally relevant as Anglophonic music and great records like this one are always a great reminder that amazing things can be achieved with patience and dedication to creating a signature sound and craft. At the end of the day, when Lange sings “brown won’t go, brown just glows” he is really making an affirmation we all know; he doesn’t need anybody’s approval and he’s here thanks only to himself and his many talents. “This Is How You Smile” is bound to be one of the best albums of the year, if not the decade.