Review: Helado Negro’s ‘Private Energy’ Is a South Beach ‘Pet Sounds’
Somewhere in the tropical cluster of South Florida, tucked away in a lush suburb, miles west of the sea, electro-pop artist Roberto Lange was born. Under the moniker Helado Negro (Spanish for "black ice cream") the Ecuadorian-American singer-producer teases out glitchy, bilingual dreamscapes in his fifth LP, released on Sufjan Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty Records. Here, Lange tames the electro-cumbia acrobatics of his 2014 release Double Youth, and untethers more smooth-sailing techno balladry – Pet Sounds transported to Miami of the future, straight from the heart and self-aware all at once.
Inspired by sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, the single "Runaround" is a sweet, carnivalesque portrait of two robots, desperate to experience warm-blooded connection, simulating the experience aboard a rickety ride into the Tunnel of Love. ("No love can cut our knife in two," he sings tenderly, melding crossed wires into something more like a hug.) Lange emerges fully human in the balmy firmament of "Young Latin and Proud" and "It's My Brown Skin": written in 2014, in the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations near Lange's residence in Brooklyn, both songs are gentle calls for strength and cultural confidence in the face of intensifying racial tensions. Private Energy refers to a reserve of compassion that Lange draws from to make his art – when focused outward, his personal stash of good will becomes a salve for the social ills of our time. Brimming with a subtle magic and wonder, Private Energy goes down best with coconut, mint and the apple of your eye.