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Helado Negro's new album is caldo de pollo for the soul

Helado Negro
Photo: Matt Cowan (Getty Images)

Technically, the vernal equinox is now 18 days away—yes, I keep vigil—but on March 8, RVNG Intl. will release a musical harbinger of spring. This Is How You Smile is the sixth album from multi-instrumentalist and composer Roberto Carlos Lange, who goes by the stage name Helado Negro. Full of lush dream-pop tracks and Lange’s abiding curiosity, This Is How You Smile is the perfect way to bridge the seasons: a comforting bilingual brew to combat the still-too-short days as well as a melodic plea to get out of the house and your shell.

You indoor kids are probably already balking, but This Is How You Smile is made up of sonic scapes, not landscapes, which Lange’s occasionally lilting baritone traverses. And no one knows better than Lange the toll of social interactions: “Running,” a hazy, almost meandering song off the new album, was inspired by the anxiety that hit him just moments before meeting up with some friends. He pushes through it, but remains aware that the cycle will repeat itself down the road at some other gathering, so he croons the refrain, “You got me running / running / running / running...” It’s acceptance, not resignation, as reflected in the laidback guitar plucking.

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With his latest empathetic offering, the Ecuadorian-American Lange continues on less tangible adventures, journeys inward that tenderly parse out memory, as well as forays into a dialogue with the wider world. The “young, Latin and proud” artist revels as much in his multicultural background as his talent and optimism in standout track, “Please Won’t Please.” The album opener is full of wave-like percussion and the most straightforward (for Helado Negro, anyway) exploration of identity. Though there’s lots of Spanish and Spanglish across the album, “Please Won’t Please” is sung entirely in English, but Lange knows it doesn’t undermine his Latinidad, and neither does his experimentation with musical genres. Indeed, that part of his identity is burnished by the tests of time and conflict: “Brown won’t go / Brown just glows.” The Island Universe Story Four artist also recognizes the importance of extending his platform to other artists from marginalized groups; and, as he recently told WBUR’s Eduardo Cepeda, he’s made a conscious choice to invite acts like the Puerto Rican-born, Brooklyn-based experimental duo Buscabulla on tour with him (he’s also featured on their second EP, EP II).

With its gentle inquisitiveness, This Is How You Smile perfectly captures the early spring—a light that’s low not because of timidity, but because it’s the start of something. And after 10 years, Helado Negro’s music remains equal parts eager awakening and blissed-out balm.

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