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CD of the Month: Helado Negro - "Far In"

Since March 2020, there’s been a wealth of “inside time” available to us. The push to “de-congregate” and isolate during the heights of pandemic time led to not only a lot of indoor living, but inside thinking as well, as the stretches of time to ponder and reflect quickly piled up as the weeks and months dragged on. Roberto Carlos Lange, otherwise known as Helado Negro, fell into this time during a residency stay with his partner in Marfa, Texas, a stay that became a lockdown-extended six month stand. Lange had a lot of time to think and look inward during this time and the following months in a move from New York to North Carolina – time to look “far in,” an expression taken in conversation from ambient music icon Laraaji. Lange took this simple phrase as the ethos and title for his latest album, and his first for the venerable 4AD label, Far In, a cozy collection of songs floating in between smooth grooves and enveloping synth-folk.

A radiating warmth runs through the record; I’ve seen more than a few folks online comparing this album to a friendly hug, and I couldn’t agree more. Mellow synths and keyboards and gentle strums and strings provide the backdrop across the fifteen tracks, sometimes holding their own space, and other times nailed down by tight rhythm section parts. When those two factors come together create some of the album’s most head-bobbing moments, to the memory meditation on being “an outsider amongst outsiders” as Lange puts it, “Outside the Outside,” to the astrological, astronomical ode to his wife, “Gemini and Leo.” Lange is the child of Ecuadorian immigrants and grew up in south Florida, and these bicultural and bilingual experiences run across his body of work. Two tracks on the album, “La Naranja” and “Agosto,” the latter featuring the Latin-synth pop duo Buscabulla, go back to his youth amongst orange trees, and their life cycle as an image on the passing of time. Another great Spanish language track is the flowing “Aguas Frías,” a song on the faded memory of a lost love, details blurred but present enough to still be there. For an album made during a pandemic, Far In, features an impressive number of outside collaborators, with Lange pulling in the cross-genre talents of William Tyler, Kelly Moran, Jenn Wasner aka Flock of Dimes, Taja Cheek aka L’Rain, Jan St. Werner of Mouse On Mars, and John Herndon of Tortoise, to name a few. Lange strategically deploys his guests’ skills under the direction of his songcraft, a collaborative effort soundtracking the unifying forces of memory and rumination.

The inviting feeling conjured by this music to me is not lost on a populace constantly pulled apart over and over by the state of the world. Lange ushers you into the album’s interior with a familiarity and sincerity that soothes the world weary mind, and provides a place for comfort, dancing, contemplation, and acceptance. Sometimes turning inside is the right place to go, and on Far In, Helado Negro shows that even there can be just as welcoming as any place on the outside.

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Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.