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.
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.
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.
Available on Asthmatic Kitty Records
HELADO NEGRO TOUR DATES
Sat. June 25 – Quito, Equador @ Cine Ocho y medio (Muvica Festival)
Thu. June 30 – Guayaquil, Equador @ Maaac Cine (Muvica Festival)
Sun. July 17 — Washington, D.C. @ The Red Palace w/ EMA
Tue. July 18 — Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie w/ EMA
Thu. July 20 — New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge w/ EMA
Fri. July 21 — Boston, MA @ TT the Bears w/ EMA
Sat. July 22 — Montreal, QC @ Quai Des Brumes w/ EMA
Sun. July 23 — Toronto, ON @ The Garrison w/ EMA