Itinerary: Helado Negro’s Roberto Carlos Lange Steps Out into Snowy Brooklyn

Roberto Carlos Lange has been making music under his Helado Negro moniker since 2006, crafting two albums and several EPs that each share roots in the dance beats and sultry heat of his South Florida upbringing, but branch off to explore synthesized sound, Latin funk, folk, and even atmospheric tones. His third LP, Invisible Life (out March 5 on Asthmatic Kitty Records), seems almost a survey of the past seven years’ work. At moments it’s sparse then lush, Spanish then English. Muffled beats build swirling rhythms and chop them up. It’s a dance record streaming from the bottom of the Atlantic, and Roberto’s conversational croon keeps it all anchored.

I meet up with Helado Negro the day after winter storm Nemo has hit Brooklyn. Every surface is blanketed in snow, and getting around requires penguin-like shuffling over patches of ice that were once sidewalks. My teeth are chattering, but Lange steps out onto the stoop of his Crown Heights apartment building in a T-shirt and socks, seemingly unaffected by the cold. He welcomes photographer Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez and me inside the apartment he’s shared with his visual artist wife since for the last five years with a warm smile and handshake.

The front door opens into a cozy living room turned DIY studio. The bright sun bouncing off the snow outside is filtered through heavy curtains; seating is sparse, and every surface, including the walls, has been taken over by turntables, small instruments, and synths, records, cables, and posters from past gigs. “This is my studio,” he tells us. “This is where I made the most recent record, Invisible Life. I did this record last year with my friend Juliana Barwick—the OMBRE record; I did that in here. I mixed one of the Bear in Heaven records here, worked on the Savath y Savalas record here…countless things.”

It’s the perfect command center for someone like Lange, who is never not making music. “[Music] is what I do, and I need a studio,” he says. “It’s the easiest thing I can accomplish with the space that I have.”

“My brain is fried because we just had rehearsal,” Lange admits after a tour of the kitchen (the site of last night’s “snow party”). “I’m trying to switch gears. Maybe let’s sit down for a second.” We each grab a chair, and Lange puts on a trippy Brazillian funk album from the ’70s to clear his head. “Tim Maio,” he explains. “He was into this whole extra energy, transcendental, crazy, spiritual, cosmic shit.”

Talk turns to music, specifically to being a full-time musician in the most expensive city in America. “I do freelance stuff, like writing music for commercial stuff,” he says. “It sucks in the sense that its not the most exciting, creative work,” he says of these gigs—like making bizarro versions of pop songs for tampon commercials, for example. But it lets him work on his own music, on his own terms, the rest of the time. “There’s no outside pressure to sustain some kind of image or quality,” he tells us. “At this point I constantly am able to do whatever I want. Maybe I am eating beans, but I know I’m able to wake up the next day and say ‘I’m gonna make this ’cause I wanna make this.’”

Stomachs are grumbling, and it’s time to leave the toasty apartment and strike out into Crown Heights. As soon as we step out, the cold wind slaps us in the face. But we march onward neighborhood favorite Chavela’s (736 Franklin Ave). Lange is a connoisseur of the Mexican menu and offers to be our personal waiter if we need help deciding on anything. “When I first moved to my apartment, I think I ordered the same thing from here every day,” he boasts. “They have a lunch special that’s really good. So all my friends that live around here, we always come here and meet.” We keep it simple with chips and salsa, sangria, and a Michelada for Lange.

The afternoon winds down as we talk past—the influence of all-night parties with his Ecuadorian family—and present—preparing for a live performance piece at SCAD’s deFINE ART. The future is open; rolling down to South by Southwest this March in friend and bassist Jay’s van, the White Whale, is all he has planned at the moment. But Lange is far from worried. “I have a lot of ideas,” he says. “I feel like I can slip into a situation where they are like, ‘Make an album.’ and I’m like, ‘Cool. I’ll make it this week if you want me to.’ I feel confident about the things I have in my mind.”

 

Photography by Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez

The Trippy World of Psychic Twin

Do you ever find that artists are all too hung up on real life? It’s like they think they have some god-given obligation to creatively render the world around them as they experience it! Luckily there remain the surrealists among us. One band that promises to take us weird places is Psychic Twin, out of Chicago.

Psychic Twin began with Erin Fein, who for two years worked alone on neo-new-wave compositions in which she’d layer her own flighty, ethereal vocals atop one another. Then, in 2012, drummer Jonny ‘Magic’ Sommer joined the one-woman group. Brett Sanderson’s synths round out the group. Together they’ve got something of the cubist shimmer and glaze of odd-pop purveyors A Sunny Day in Glasgow or Bear in Heaven.

Below you can hear “Strangers,” to be released on a 7” by the same name. You’ll find it more than a bit romantic, with a ghostly intimacy in no way lessened by the sharp songwriting. So go ahead, take a break from this world. It’ll be here when you get back. I mean, I assume.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

BlackBook Tracks #6: Is Your Summer Weird Yet?

It’s mid-July, and by now your summer’s probably getting really good or really weird. (My vote’s for weird, I don’t know about you.) Whatever’s going on, round out your soundtrack with this week’s musical picks.

JEFF the Brotherhood – “Six Pack”

Get to know another side of Nashville with JEFF the Brotherhood. The lead single from their new Dan Auerbach-produced album Hypnotic Nights shows how to stay optimistic about summer, even when it is too hot to live, also known as right now.

The Soft Pack – “Saratoga”

San Diego garage rockers the Soft Pack are getting ready to release their next album Strapped on Mexican Summer. First single “Saratoga” hints at the vibes to come.

Vampire Weekend – “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”

Remember when you first heard Vampire Weekend? Brooklyn’s finest have been keeping quiet while working on their third album, but they resurfaced at the Pitchfork Music Festival last weekend to remind everyone of just how great they are.

The Bewitched Hands – “Thank You, Goodbye, It’s Over”

The charming French indie pop band jangles its way through two and a half minutes of pure pleasantness.

Alt-J – “Tessellate”

See things in a slightly different way with these fast-rising Brits.

Lana Del Rey – “National Anthem” (Das Racist remix)

Nothing like a good remix to make Lana Del Rey more palatable, and Das Racist don’t disappoint.

MNDR – “Faster Horses”

MNDR knows her way around a slick electro-pop tune, and “Faster Horses” is no exception. Keep an eye out for her debut LP Feed Me Diamonds next month.

Discovery – “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (ft. Deradoorian)

The blend of efficiency and pop production on Discovery’s LP make it a summer record with lasting power.

Bear In Heaven – “World Of Freakout”

Bear In Heaven bring the fuzzy, washed-out synths for a song that’s more complex than it initially lets on.

Poolside – “Just Fall In Love”

A record called Pacific Standard Time is irresistable by default, and the California duo Poolside have the disco-inflected chops to back it up.

Kindness – “Anyone Can Fall In Love”

A slow jam for summer nights, British up-and-comer Kindness has a knack for universal pop appeal.

Moonlight Matters – “Come For Me” (ft. Gustaph)

Getting people to dance to songs they’ve never heard before can be a challenge, but this track, assisted by Hercules and Love Affair’s Gustaph, is probably a good place to start.

BlackBook Tracks #3: 2012 First Half Report

Looking sharp, 2012. In our first two installments, we’ve already highlighted some of the best songs of the year so far, like Tanlines’ “All of Me” and “I Love It” by Icona Pop. Here’s a sampling of some other great singles from the past six months.

Django Django – “Default”

This relentlessly catchy cut from the London-based psych-rock quartet demands to be put on repeat.

Hot Chip – “Night And Day”

Hot Chip have always been pretty sexy, and they reach their full potential in that department with “Night and Day.” With a nasty bass line and characteristic humor, the song simultaneously fulfills their established R&B-inflected electro sound and pushes it further.

Grimes – “Oblivion”

Claire Boucher’s ethereal vocals and looping production make this song both expansive and intensely intimate.

Kindness – “House”

An earnest, quietly anthemic love song from the British up-and-comer. Kindess’s debut album World, You Need A Change Of Mind was produced by French studio wizard Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, Chromeo).

Chairlift – “Met Before”

On sophomore album Something, Chairlift moved swiftly past the previous success of “Bruises” and went in a dreamier direction, while remaining just as charming.

Sharon Van Etten – “Leonard”

Sharon Van Etten’s been around for a while, but she’s earned some new fans from third LP Tramp. This highlight from the album lets the singer-songwriter’s voice soar.

Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”

Seattle’s Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is known for his stark, minimalist style. “Dark Parts” shows off his ability to distill imagery and make you cry.

Bear In Heaven – “Sinful Nature”

Bear In Heaven’s shimmering electro-pop sounds perfect right about now. With lines like “Let’s get loaded and make some strange things come true,” this song puts romance in a weird place.

New Build – “Do You Not Feel Loved?”

There’s a bit of overlap here, as New Build is a side project of Hot Chip’s Al Doyle and Felix Martin. This track from their excellent album “Yesterday Was Lived And Lost” is gently delivered, but urgent all the same.

Santigold – “Big Mouth”

It took four years for Santigold to make her return, and tracks like the rattling, blistering “Big Mouth” make sophomore LP Master of My Make-Believe worth the wait.

Bear in Heaven Likes Austin’s Population of Bats, Hates Boston

Bear in Heaven is a three piece ensemble hailing from Brooklyn who made their first Austin City Limits appearance on Saturday. Before their set, we chatted up guitarist Adam Wills and drummer Joe Stickney about being an up-and-coming band and their stellar 2010 SxSW breakout.

Where in Brooklyn do you call home? Joe Stickney: I live in Bed-Stuy. Adam Wills: I live in Williamsburg and (vocalist) Jon Philpot lives in Fort Greene.

Favorite hangouts: JS: Music Hall of Williamsburg is a good place to play. GlassLands is a cool place to hang out. AW: I like Zebulon. JS: I played at Brooklyn Bowl during CMJ, which was cool but also was weird, because they have all those screens over the bowling lanes, and we’re playing and I’m looking over the side and watching Mick Jagger strutting down the runway, upstaging us. I also bartend at a bowling alley called The Gutter down the street.

How does it feel to be back in Austin after SXSW? AW: It’s great. So good, in fact, that we made it our band vacation. We’re here for five days, just playing and partying. Austin rolled out the good weather for us.

Are you feeling the festival vibe? AW: This part of the festival is great, free beers and free food. JS: Seeing your friends that you haven’t seen since Wales or wherever you were. AW: The 30 minutes leading up to playing is terrible because it’s really stressful. If you play a regular club, you get an hour long soundcheck and here it’s just bam, bam, bam. And we don’t go up there with an acoustic guitar and a bongo – we have a bunch of shit to plug in and make sure it works. So that part’s stressful. For our roadies especially and our drum techs. Well, that’s not true at all. We do everything ourselves.

Places you’re pumped to hit up on your tour? JS: Should we say places that we’re not excited to go to, to boost our popularity? Boston. Can’t wait to play Boston again. AW: It’s a tough town to play music in sometimes. We never had an easy time there. But hopefully this will change.

Describe the evolution of your sound. AW: I like to think we’re getting better. I’m writing songs that I’m more and more happy with. This last album stood up to playing it at well over 100 shows without us getting sick of it. I really like the songs still. We usually just play the entire last record with a few earlier songs. JS: Sometimes we get requests from the first record that we just don’t have the ability to play anymore.

Favorite thing about Austin? JS: Bats. They have that bat bridge here that I haven’t seen yet. There’s this bridge here and when the sun sets, hundreds and thousands of bats fly out from underneath. AW: Austin has the largest urban population of bats in North America.