Helado Negro is the sobriquet adopted by Roberto Carlos Lange, an American musician of Ecuadorian lineage. The name translates as ‘black ice cream’, appropriate in that it accurately reflects the unusual juxtaposition of styles found within his music. Canta Lechuza, his second album under the Helado Negro name, is an understated offering of handcrafted Hispanic folktronica and proves a worthy addition to Asthmatic Kitty’s growing roster of highly individualistic and idiosyncratic acts.
Lange wrote the album over a number of months spent in a rural Connecticut retreat and its origins are tangible throughout. Much of it possesses a natural, organic warmth and he appears to be more intent on creating moods rather than laying down imposing melodies or rhythms.
Opening track Globitos provides us with the first glimpse of his voice, a sort of soft, curtailed croon that suggests what Gruff Rhys may have sounded like had he been raised in South America rather than north Wales. On 20 Dia his voice unexpectedly captures the smoothness of mid period Roxy Music and following track Lechuguilla continues in a similar style, imparting mildly soulful undertones that call to mind early period Devendra Banhart. It is moments like these that give the album a laid-back, leisurely feel, seemingly entirely free from worry or conflict.
The album has more to offer than this however, with Regresa in particular featuring more in the way of skittering, amplified percussion and layered effects. Similarly, Cenar En La Manana is set against a quietly oscillating background and Oreja De Arena sees his voice approach a keening falsetto, draped over toned-down, squelchy electronica. Calculas displays some gently mutating synth sequences and certain tracks, most notably the album closer Allanzar, possess ambient backdrops that would not sound out of place on an album released on Warp Records. It is this subtle sense of experimentation that suggests his outlook is similar to artists such as Cornelius, yet the way he melds this firmly to acoustic instrumentation also aligns him with acts like Tunng.
All in all, it is difficult to pin him down or comfortably place him into any particular musical box, a view further strengthened by his releases and collaborations under other names (perhaps most significantly as one half of Savath & Savalas alongside Prefuse 73 man Guillermo Scott Herren). Cantu Lecheza has a combination of sounds infrequently heard together elsewhere. At times doubts can surface as to whether it can fully work but against not inconsiderable odds he ultimately manages to pull it off, delivering on the whole an impressively irregular album of Latin-inflected laptop folk.