Helado Negro returns with This Is How You Smile, an album that freely flickers between clarity and obscurity, past and present geographies, bright and unhurried seasons. Miami-born, New York-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange embraces a personal and universal exploration of aura – seen, felt, emitted – on his sixth album and second for RVNG Intl.
Helado Negro’s 2016 album Private Energy, re-released as Private Energy (Expanded) in 2017, is an urgent affirmation of self-love and solidarity driven by Lange’s personal response to sanctioned violence towards people of color. The widely embraced album furthered the artist’s visibility beyond a community of fans long established through a rigorous recording and touring career, with moments like “Young, Latin and Proud” and “It’s My Brown Skin” aligning with a larger social demand for basic rights amongst marginalized people and the universal imperative to love, be loved, and thrive.
This Is How You Smile’s opener “Please Won’t Please,” a call back to Private Energy, finds vitality in turning the privacy dial further inward. Setting the scene with a spare drumbeat that moves the music forward in a more maligned than militant march, Lange’s voice tenderly permits himself weariness: “We light ourselves on fire, just to see if anyone believes.” Something must be reserved, “will anyone rescue what’s left of me.” Diving into glimmering spirals, the remainder of the album takes leave of the broader “we” and mines intimate pairings – siblings, parent / child relationships, partnership, and old friends.
Lange describes the album as the soundtrack of a person approaching you, slowly, for 40 minutes. This Is How You Smile invites listeners on a walk through the changing colors of early mornings and evenings, writing, recording, or hearing a friend, a figure emerges, and there you are.