And now there's a light flickering in the woods; dim and red and warm through the dark wall of trees. As you trudge uphill, the snow crunching beneath your boots, you stop and stand under the stars and creaking pines and deliberate all by your lonesome. Moments like this become Choose Your Adventure chapters. Should you give it a closer look and risk stumbling into the lair of some strange, slumbering beast? (Maybe the beast has hot chocolate. Maybe it loves fun.) Or should you turn tail and try your luck elsewhere? Left? Right? Back isn't an option; no sir. Forward? With the sun long set you feel the cold in your bones, you feel the lifeforce breathing out of you. It's only a matter of time before your strength fails, before the night and cold becomes too thick and heavy and all-consuming. These are the choices that define a life. Push on toward the light and take a chance? Or risk freezing out alone in this dark, mysterious wood? The choice is yours, adventurer. An owl hoots. A rabbit skips across your path. The trees creak. You breath in deep, square your jaw, tighten your pack-straps, and walk toward the glow.
Good choice. High five.
On the new Helado Negro album, the Asthmatic Kitty released Canta Lechuza, Roberto Carlos Lange is asking you to come in from the cold. He's opened the door to his forest cabin and now you're standing in the middle of his kitchen, snowboots dripping on the hardwoods. Roberto has something to show you. He doesn't care about the mud you tracked in, the melting snow puddled up by the bear-rug and woodstove (its sooty red-black glow a-flickerin'.) “Dude, listen to this! It's my new record!” he tells you—and this is what the man does. Helado Negro translates as “black ice cream” and Canta Lechuza means “sing owl.” Rightly so—like the wise ol' owl, like Davey Crockett and the Jersey Devil, Canta Lechuza is a thing born of woodsy zones.
Backstory: In November of last year Roberto left Brooklyn for a month-long artist residence in rural Connecticut. From his piny retreat, Roberto awoke each morning to the dead-quiet of the forest. He got up, showered, put on a kettle, fixed a cup of black tea, then sat in the woods, om-ing out into the almighty (and very scenic) Void. Staring straight ahead, he centered himself for the recording hours to come. When the tea was gone he went back inside to get warm and began the workday. It was no stress, no pressure; a great cosmic calm presiding. He was in a benevolent place where nothing moved, where all was quiet and subtle. The result is Canta Lechuza—a majestically pretty electronic pop record; easygoing and beautifully mellow, but each piece danceable, each part a dance party.
If you're familiar with Helado Negro's last full-length, Awe Owe, the first thing you'll notice is this one sounds nothing like it. Awe Owe was a Funkadelican mega-opus populated by guest spots and collaborators. It was a sprawling Latin psych-funk record; hiphop-informed, humid, earthy. That's all gone. Slate wiped clean. Tabula rasa. Canta Lechuza is an intimate, personal beast, a solo affair built lovingly from live instruments, percussion, and field recordings, all processed through electronics, computers, and synthesizers. It is an album with very defined songs, its song-structure has been labored over; choruses count bigtime, confident breakdowns and digi-pop bridges are all part and parcel of the greater good.
Like Roberto's beat-makin' project Epstein, Canta Lechuza is dance music turned inside out—percussion plipping and plapping, basslines smooth and dry as a tube of blue neon. Deep-space micro-drones emerge from hibernation, growling out from a wash of sun-filtered haze—morphing, squeezing, then bending themselves around globular droplets of blood-red electro. Oscillating tone-shifts freeze up and fragmentize and become beats. With all this stuff tip-tappering and oonsk-oonsking through your headphones, you can sit back and daydream up fantasy origins for all this source material and field recordings: the insides of a tuba or a family tree of tree frogs; gusts of wind through an expressway tunnel or a ceremonial raindance at the Greater Crown Heights Water Jug Factory.
These 11 tracks fit squarely in mid-2011, a time of exploration into the wonders of technology, into electronic source material as dancemusic and dancemusic as impressionist painting. And Roberto's voice? Round of applause! Talk about re-imagining—and rebirth! Roberto's vocals (lyrics in Spanish) are a big step forward, a crystallized realization. His voice recalls “China Girl”-era Bowie jet-setting to the vacation moons of Saturn; an Ecuadorean Chad Valley; a relaxed and tropical Peter Gabriel (or even Peter Murphy. Look at that tan!). Whether set-out natural or affected with a breath of reverb or delay, the man's voice is pure clover honey in your Yogi tea. It's reassuring, human, medicinal, down-to-help, up-for-fun, happy-to-please, out-to-sooth...
And that, fellow travelers, is our centerline: For all its reinvention and new terrain, Canta Lechuza is a comforting record. The album's woodsy genesis makes sense; you feel Roberto shaking off the cold, turning on his mics. You see the tea cup steaming on his dresser. And you know he's content and that everything is going to be alright. Is it? Yes! Truly! Loneliness begetting buoyancy! Solitary isolation birthing universal dancefloor resonation! Woo! Listen to the sound of his voice; feel that smoky, rainyday vibe that is so much like sleeping beasts in woodpaneled solariums and incense burning and the window glass fogging up at dusk. Which is to say, the cold is outside and now you're in—and it's good to be in. Naturally. So meet the new Helado Negro record on Asthmatic Kitty, Canta Lechuza. Come in from the cold. The door is open...