Indie Rock Hit Parade Live Session: Helado Negro

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Helado Negro | Photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

Joining us in the studio for this Indie Rock Hit Parade is an artist who is no stranger to our performance space. Roberto Carlos Lange has been releasing music as Helado Negro for just over a decade and, in that time, has become a reliable source for intimate, expressive music. Combining sweeping electronics with rhythms gleaned from Floridian hip-hop and his own Ecuadorian heritage, Helado Negro’s latest album is This is How You Smile. The new songs expand on the socially- and culturally-minded lyrics of his last album, 2016’s Private Energy. For that album, Helado Negro performed a memorable World Cafe session accompanied by a string quartet (including IRHP session veteran Renata Zeiguer on violin) and a pair of tinsel-clad dancers. While on tour with Beirut earlier this year, Lange returned to our studio with two of the versatile musicians who appear on his new album: Angela Morris and Nathaniel Morgan. Both provide synth and saxophone parts on the record, and they reprise their instrument-hopping roles here.

The first thing you need to know about Helado Negro’s live setup is that there are a lot of things to plug in. Meticulously crafted loops and circuits send vocals and instruments through processors and effects racks, resulting in an exquisitely dreamy soundscape. The second thing you need to know is that, for this session, Helado Negro opted to perform drumless arrangements of the new songs. Stripping away the beats allows the songs to billow and bloom in a way unlike their recorded counterparts. The session begins with the album’s latest single, “Running.” A gently pulsing bass synth and a heavily processed guitar underpin Lange’s fluttering vocal. Next is “Please Won’t Please,” which prominently features Morgan’s treated saxophone. It soars and swirls alongside Lange’s lyrics about demonstrative art and human empathy. Finally, there’s “Pais Nublado,” a bilingual song that Lange has referred to as a kind of guidepost for when his future in music felt uncertain. For this song, Morris joins Morgan on sax for a rare and delightful sight in our studio.

Listen to Helado Negro’s Indie Rock Hit Parade session below, check out Gabriela Barbieri and Emily DeHart’s pictures from the studio, and watch this space for a video of the performance (as well as an exciting announcement of Helado Negro’s return to Philly later this year).

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