Aside from family and close friends, there are few things I that love more than music and science-fiction. With a few notable exceptions, the two seldom ever come together in any real meaningful way. When they do the results can be an interesting source of inspiration. A song from Roberto Carlos Lange, better known as Helado Negro was one such moment.
The song “Runaround” was inspired by an Isaac Asimov story story from the 1940s about a robot that ends up going crazy. Lang even used some of the robot’s mixed up dialogue in the lyrics. The song is vaguely retro and evoked the spirit of old David Sylvian or Ryuichi Sakamoto music, from the time when sci-fi and high art motivated New Romanticism.
“Runaround” might have been just another forgotten musical curiosity until I explored it’s host album Private Energy. Like Every Helado Negro recording, Private Energy was recorded at Roberto Lange’s home studio. Lang’s approach to recording incorporates the warm sound of organic instruments with electronics to create what often amounts to dance music. The duality also extends to Lang’s cultural influences that are as much rooted in the Latin world as the ’80s American culture of his Florida upbringing. His albums are often sung in English as well as Spanish.
Sci-fi just happens to be one of the isolated American cultural influences that shape the very intriguing Private Energy.
A big part of what makes Private Energy interesting is how Lang manages to mix his musical influences. However subtle, I can hear bits of Daniel Lanios, Mercury Rev and even Blood Orange in songs that are either sung in Spanish, English or short instrumental.
When singing in Spanish, Helado Negro can sometimes sound surprisingly like David Sylvian until he ascends into his higher register. The smart and catchy compositions all have a bit of nostalgia about them. That’s partly because despite being electronic music, the sound is warm and non aggressive, like the way anyone growing up in the ’80s might remember it now.
The warm vibe continues with the English language tracks, many of which are the album’s true highlights. “We Don’t Have Time for That” moves along with an efficiency reminiscent of Yellow Magic Orchestra. It like other tracks on Private Energy are sharp and snappy with the robotic rhythm to connect with dance and electronica, but friendly and inviting lyrics like innocent pop from decades ago. Even the boldest statements like ‘It’s My Brown Skin” come across as benign.
Private Energy is Helado Negro’s 5th album is his most accessible one to date. Released in October of 2016, it’s my hope that this unique album gets more exposure while it’s still fresh. Who would have thought that a good song inspired by a robot would lead to such a great album.