Floating electronics and strong social messages make an exquisite combination on the latest dynamic update from Helado Negro.
Roberto Lange is a creator. He’s been publicly making music under various names for 13 years, most recently as Helado Negro, a moniker under which he sings his own songs. Lange studied film, animation, and sound design at Savannah College of Art and Design, and his website is populated with experimental audiovisual pieces. In short, everything he does is dynamic, and Private Energy -- originally released in 2016, now being released in an expanded edition -- is another example of Lange’s tremendously active mind.
Every Helado Negro album sounds fresh -- fresher than it should from as long-established a musician as Lange. Private Energy opens with the rosy "Calienta". Made up of soft electronics, it floats and drifts freely, as impossible to hold onto as the colors of sunrise, but just as warm and as moving. This is the quality that persists throughout the album: an unwillingness to be grounded by cynical resignation. Lange refuses to succumb to harshness, and because of that, Private Energy rises.
That holds true not just on delicate love songs, but on more sonically substantial and thematically hard-hitting tracks. "Lengua Larga" is one of the former, sensual and bass-heavy, with the most dance-ready rhythms on the album. It’s about as close as Private Energy gets to the club, but it’s still far from cookie cutter pop music and is refreshing in spite of how catchy it is. "Transmission Listen" and "We Don’t Have Time For That" are the only tracks that come close to its speed and raw energy level, but each one has a very different vibe. "Transmission Listen" is more personal, an entreaty from one quasi-lover to another, while "We Don’t Have Time For That" is a release of the energy mentioned in the album title, a final ecstatic ascension into the metaphysical.
More explicitly topical songs strike a crucial chord. "Young, Latin and Proud" carries with it a low-key strength as Lange sings of solidarity: "And the people / Who’ll be here waiting for you / Always will be one with you / And you’ll be one with me / Young, Latin and proud." The song switches between Spanish and English, perfect for the diversity of the vast Latin-American community Lange reaches out to in the song and the album. "It’s My Brown Skin" lets Lange sing a different kind of love song, one to his color and heritage: "You’re stuck on me / And all this time, I’m inside you." There’s gravity to both songs by virtue of their context; Lange wrote them, and much of the album, in the wake of the 2014 killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. Still, Lange refuses to run, to hide, or to be anything but himself: young, Latin, and proud.
Tying together the album are short, interstitial tracks, mixing tropical and free jazz into ambient slices of paradise, a little mix of everything and an insight into Lange’s less structured moments. The extra tracks added to expand Private Energy also blaze intriguing trails into heretofore unseen pockets of Lange’s repertoire. There are only a few alternate mixes of other songs, but they’re worth a listen. The alternate mix of "Runaround" adds more ethereal touches to an earthy song, elevating it to a new level. Lange’s December Mix of "Young, Latin and Proud" rings with a darker tone, resolve giving way to haunting loops. The alternate form of "Transmission Listen" takes things slow and intimate, giving Lange a chance to let loose his inner crooner.
Private Energy is effortlessly cool, filled with hope and an incredible sense of aesthetic beauty -- just like everything Lange has done under the Helado Negro name. Its timely political messages resound, its vulnerability should be embraced, and it deserves this updated release, not just because the new mixes sound great, but because everyone should have a chance to hear this album and treat it like new.