Robert Carlos Lange released his first album under the Helado Negro moniker 12 years ago. Since then, he’s taken the genial, featherweight sprawl of Awe Owe and expounded on it over several albums without altering the joy and lightness at its essence. The parts may change, but his effervescent gratitude for life’s gifts remains embedded in his music.
You’d never know from listening to Far In, the seventh Helado Negro full-length and first on 4AD, that it’s about death. Few people, after all, could respond to the crushing darkness of the last year and a half with a record so boldly luminescent. That’s simply Lange’s modus operandi. Even when serious, as on Private Energy‘s commentary on 2016’s tumultuous political climate, Lange has consistently found an anxiolytic angle. In dark times, he aims to glow.
In that sense, Far In positively radiates with danceable beats and capacious arrangements decorated with lush textures. Early highlight “Gemini and Leo” introduces the new focus on rhythm through a bouncy, syncopated keyboard pattern and a lilting bass line as Lange poignantly marries the cosmic with the earthbound. His usual expressions of devotion gain a percussive sway in songs like “Purple Tones” and “There Must Be a Song Like You”, and it helps bring a sense of variety to the record’s spacier offerings. It’s also more than an aesthetic decision; in urging the body’s movement, Lange dares us to explore our outer limits, leave ourselves, and trust others. “My world only opens / When your world comes in,” he whispers on “Outside the Outside”, a gentle reminder to us as much as it is a supplication to another.
From a purely sonic perspective, Far In represents Helado Negro’s most sumptuous offering yet. The first things that hit are the drums, mixed and compressed to press themselves right against the heart. They form the backbone of the record’s soft psychedelic jams over which a Rhodes electric piano leads the charge. The presence of the Rhodes dominates, lending a critical warmth to gorgeous tapestries like “Hometown Dream” and “Aguas Frías”, beaming like sunlight across “Outside the Outside’s” gentle disco and the mellow, galloping “Purple Tones”. A rounded and edgeless bass flows underneath; curlicues of guitar envelop the ears like smoke.
Though Lange builds his songs from simple parts, it’s easy to miss how many details he stuffs into the creases without repeat listens or a proper audio setup. Part of that has to do with its runtime. At 70 minutes, the length might seem mildly enervating at first, to the point where a standout track like “La Naranja”, with its nauseous synths and propulsive bounce, feels less impactful in its album context. But this is also a record that begs us to familiarize ourselves with its blissful architecture. Once you do, you may notice the panned wooden clicks on “Purple Tones” like sped-up sōzu clicks, the birdsong hidden behind “Brown Fluorescence”, or the transition from palm-muted guitar to staccato saxophone on “Hometown Dream”. These subtle details, like mahogany molding on a doorway or iron coils on a staircase railing, enhance the dreamlike spaces Lange conjures as they invite us to inhabit them.
In 2021, you release a double album for two reasons: you want to game streaming algorithms or make a point. Here, Lange unquestionably does the latter. He lets many of these 15 tracks unfurl at their own pace, whether appending an extra chorus onto “There Must Be a Song Like You”, stretching out “Thank You For Ever” to illustrate the desert that inspires it, appending a mollifying freeform coda to “Wake Up Tomorrow” or popping another quarter into “Aureole’s” kaleidoscopic carousel. The vast majority of them extend beyond four minutes. It’s as if Lange is compensating for the amount of time he spent forced into the same space, breathing the same air and internalizing the same anxieties while the world crumbled around. In Far In, true to its name, he allows for a charitable escape within.