Electro-experimental artist and producer Roberto Lange, better known as Helado Negro, talks about growing up near the beach and being surrounded by the leafy canopies of citrus trees with great affection. “There was always this sense of abundance,” the South-Florida native tells Remezcla over the phone. Florida is saturated with nature in the most beautiful way, he adds, but you’re not quite completely immersed in it, since the state is also densely populated. That overcrowdedness is a stark contrast to his experiences last year during an extended stay in Marfa, Texas, where the vast, Far-West desertland had a different kind of effect on him. “I really had a moment in that sense of feeling the pure enjoyment of being outside and [thinking], ‘I’m so grateful for this right now.’ It was definitely profound.”
Lange describes the core of his kaleidoscopic new record Far In as a deep response to his time in Marfa. It also marks Helado Negro’s first full-length release since signing to the beloved London-based label 4AD Records. Throughout the production of his last album, 2019’s ever-glowing This Is How You Smile, Lange notes that he fell into a rigid routine that consisted of bunkering down and spending roughly 10 to 12 hours a day in-studio. “It was an isolating and intense thing, and I knew I didn’t want to do that again,” he says. “I wanted to make this new record with a lot of people, in a room with a bunch of friends, just everyone playing together.”
Lange managed to blueprint some of Far In’s tracklist through studio sessions with friends in early 2020, but that aspect of creating it among his community as he first envisioned soon came to a halt. In March, he and his partner, visual artist Kristi Sword, left their Brooklyn abode for what was intended to be a short-term residency in Marfa, Texas, where they planned to lay the groundwork for their cross-disciplinary project, Kite Symphony, Four Variations. They arrived the same week that New York had just gone into a full lockdown. Marfa, a town with a population of a little over 1,800 people that sits amid the sprawling and sparsely occupied Chihuahuan Desert, followed suit not long after.
Sword and Lange were stuck for the foreseeable future, but returning to New York also wasn’t a realistic option. Rather than yielding to the uncertainty unfolding around them, they adapted to the unknown out of necessity. “We were writing our own rules and writing our own roadmap to where we wanted to get to,” he notes. “It was exciting in that respect. It was something new, and we were doing it together and learning it together.”
Far In is imbued with that unmistakable polychromatic sound that Helado Negro has become synonymous with. It’s illuminated by lush synthesizers, warm vibraphone hums, and ethereal electronic textures that seem to make time standstill. “I spent a lot of time making each one of these songs their very own world. I think a lot of what I’m trying to do is just disappear from my brain for a little while and let everything be autonomous,” he adds.
“I spent a lot of time making each one of these songs their very own world. I think a lot of what I’m trying to do is just disappear from my brain for a little while and let everything be autonomous.”
In the opener “Wake Up Tomorrow,” Lange, accompanied by singer-songwriter Kacy Hill, leads with the clear-headedness of a new beginning, before shuffling into the radiant “Gemini and Leo” (a nod to his time en casita with Sword). The track is driven by a funk-heavy bassline, courtesy of Flock of Dimes’s Jenn Wasner, as Lange brings an intergalactic dancefloor to fruition: “We can move in slow motion, just watch me/We can take our time in cosmic balance/We’re just light from stars that shine on planets/Constellations of our love and magic.
On the dreamlike “Agosto,” Lange joins forces with tropi-synth contemporaries Buscabulla, and pays homage to his home state, while the meditative “Aguas Frías” commemorates his transformative visit to rural Texas, the oasis’s glistening traces nearly tangible at first listen.
The principle of movement is also a running thread in Helado Negro’s latest work. Sometimes it takes the form of a pulsing groove (“There Must Be A Song Like You,” “Aureole”), other times it’s through visual storytelling, like in the song “Purple Tones.” Here, Lange depicts the constant state of motion that comes with living life out on the road as he touches on the idea of “growing younger to stay strong” in order to not get whittled down by the habitual.
Throughout Far In, Lange rhapsodizes about the beauty of natural soundscapes and manages to find tranquility amid the chaos. “La Naranja” demonstrates Lange’s glimmering optimism in the face of that all-too-relatable anxiety around the ways climate change has taken a toll on our environment. It’s part ode to the bountiful orange trees of Florida, part call to action, as he croons: “Y sé que solo tú y yo/Podemos salvar el mundo/Aquí…hoy,” “Tú y yo/Podеmos cambiar todo,” “Tú y yo/Sobreviviremos esto.”
“We have these things now, but there’s a lot we can do to make things better,” he states. “I’m projecting the world I want to live in and I’m putting myself to task when I’ve taken a misstep. When I sing these songs or put these themes out there, that’s a lot of what I want for myself more than anything. And hopefully, people want that for themselves too.”
Listen to Far In below.