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Helado Negro
Phasor Alexander Leissle , February 5th, 2024 08:33

The American musician's second album for 4AD sees Helado Negro striving to burst through a fog of his own making, finds Alexander Leissle

Roberto Carlos Lange has long made music that seems to exist at a slight remove from the listener. The American-Ecuadorean’s previous albums Invisible Life (2013), Double Youth (2014) and Private Energy (2016) all explored in synth-infused folk the elusive natures of memory and identity, ideas that become greasy when grasped at too intently. 2021’s Far In, an hour-plus sprawl recorded during COVID pandemic lockdowns, felt equally – and for once, overly – gauzy, as if positioning a thin sheet of paper between each ear and the earpad.

‘LFO (Lupe Finds Oliveros)’ kicks things off in Phasor with a motorik buzz of thin percussion, bass-guitar stabs and violin-filled breakdowns (think Arcade Fire heard through a metal drain) as Lange does his finest Dave Gahan impression. “Yesterday, on my way to your home / I was lost in a garden of uncertainty”, he sings, initially in Spanish. It’s energetic and seemingly straightforward – save the disorienting rapid-delay effect applied to the mix, as if the whole song were being played twice, a split second apart.

An oscillation between control and disorientation continues throughout (the album’s title refers to a numerical vector for oscillation in physics and engineering). Hewing closer to the former is when Phasor is at its strongest, exploring the world of a character seeking connection but far from reach. “Quiet light / Pushing too far / It’s all gone”, he sings on ‘Best For You and Me’ as a pretty, bright piano line circles a light-footed beat. In ‘Colores del Mare’, filtered and agitated drums, toy-keyboard notes and claps bounce around the mix like a ball around a box, rattling the surfaces, threatening their integrity. It’s one of his best works for a decade.

Lange’s musical curiosity is equally roving: ‘Flores’ – slow, with squeaky synths, drowned in echo – feels like a knowing Pink Floyd knock-off; the latin shuffle of ‘Echo Fools Me’ buries funk guitar stabs beneath its Gal Costa pastiche. Lange’s world can at times feel impenetrable: ‘Out There’ very much has its walls up, an opaque jam as if The King of Limbs (2011) were covered by a hotel-lounge band; ‘I Just Want to Wake Up With You’ is perhaps his most playlist-friendly, and so could belong on any of his albums; “Space… Time… Pain”, he repeats in ‘Echo Fools Me’, as Lange’s lyrical view starts to feel navel-gazing.

But when Phasor is good, it’s electrifying. The penultimate ‘Wish You Could Be Here’ emerges from a splutter of noise (generated by Salvatore Martirano’s pioneering composing machine, the SAL-MAR construction) and high-frequency synth notes with an urgent tambourine shake, 808-clicks and pulsing chords. It’s like a dance track is in there and trying to fight its way out – and like an artist is trying, struggling, trying some more, to get closer to us. To the moment.