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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Far In, the latest record from Helado Negro.
If the structure of Helado Negro’s previous six studio albums and four EPs largely presented itself as languorous, ambient sketches — inhaling and exhaling in due time through intersecting clouds of folk and electronic, English and Spanish, thought and narrative — then his sixth album resembles a more fully fledged drawing, but one no less complex. Where the Ecuadorian-American artist (born Roberto Carlos Lange) refers to his previous work as containing “implied grooves,” the grooves are far more than apparent on Far In, the follow-up to his 2019 breakthrough record This Is How You Smile and his debut on 4AD. Perhaps, the added structure and the increased prominence of his drums and bass on his latest is a product of a newfound creative confidence.
“I feel the most comfortable I’ve ever felt expressing through music,” he explained to the New York Times. “Sound and music has always been that for me: It’s always been that great place to enter into. That’s the best way that I’ve found myself to be a part of that idea — of being present within.”
In his renewed confidence and groove, though, Lange never loses the soft, amorphous edges and sense of mystery that define his earlier records. Take opening track “Wake Up Tomorrow,” a lackadaisical piece that centers the tension between singer Kacy Hill’s otherworldly soul-stirring hums with Lange’s more grounding lilt. The melodies move around a steady and simple snare-driven drum pattern until the song's final minute, when the percussion drops out and the track dissipates into an encircling mass of synth drone and marimba.
A multi-disciplinary artist, Lange doesn’t have a traditional music background or education, and he doesn’t fluently read or write music in the traditional sense. Instead, he comes at his music from an approach formed by his history with academia and visual art.
“The way I talk about and think about sound and music is to think about things being shapes and colors and textures, and things being bright and soft and delicate. That's, as much as it is musical, kind of like a language,” he said in a recent interview with NPR. “I think it's all the same. Songs are sound art, words are just sound. I don't think there's any separation, honestly.”
You can feel this approach across the album, from the way his vowels in his vocals create shapes to compliment its backing to more obvious examples like the track “Purple Tones” or “Brown Fluorescence,” an interlude made up of field recordings of voices, chopped up and processed into an uncanny glow that sounds precisely like the color the title imagines. (“It was like this funny glow, something that was not like a fluorescent light, but almost like if there was a brown rock that was fluorescent and you just found it in nature,” he explained to Apple Music.)
Prior to and during the creation of Far In, Lange was far from his longtime home in Brooklyn, living in Marfa, Texas, with his partner Kristi Sword and collaborating with her on a multimedia art project called “Kite Symphony.” It’s only natural that their love crops up on the album. The exuberant, funky “Gemini and Leo” provides a vignette of the two of them taking their time together, basking on a cosmic dance floor. Much of the album’s driving theme, however, was prompted by time spent in Marfa’s vast space and natural landscape. Here, he went inside himself, confronting the personal and societal ever-growing anxieties around climate changes, the deterioration of our natural world and the changes and pain that will bring upon humanity. “Strange hell sitting here / Breathing / Knowing it's too late,” he sings on the gentle acoustic track “Wind Conversation.” Later on the track, he closes on a brighter note, “Blissed out kiss, we'll be alright / And all the while / Old dust forms our shape through time.”
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.