Helado Negro — Phasor

Phasor

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.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today