At first listen, the music on Canta Lechuza, Roberto Carlos Lange’s second album as Helado Negro, suggests a blurred intimacy. The songs, built around looping rhythms, foreground the bass, with Lange’s vocals encircling bass in turn. There’s conventional pop-song bliss to be found here: “Regresa” features a particularly catchy melody, for one. But there’s also something pleasantly strange about the construction of these songs: they’re at once skeletal, assembled from the minimum number of ingredients, and yet abound with a fullness that seems all-encompassing. It’s intentionally disorienting, adding an interesting wrinkle to this album’s collection of 11 rhythmic tone-poems.
That command of tone and atmosphere can sometimes lead to an uneven middle ground between mood and melody, however. Much like his occasional musical associate Guillermo Scott Herren, Lange’s music isn’t always immediately gripping, and some of the songs here have a tendency to choose mood over dynamism — sustaining, rather than evolving, a particular style. It makes for a pleasant listening experience, but also one that might not endure once the album ends.
Canta Lechuza’s most memorable moments come when mood and structure inhabit the same song. “El Oeste” opens with a grounded yet ephemeral keyboard rhythm, the notes seeming to flatten as soon as they’re played. It’s an effect that’s amplified at the end of the song, the moody textures collapsing into a wall of feedback; more crucially, it’s a discernible progression over the song’s three minutes, and one that’s set up from the beginning. “20 Dia” counterbalances ethereal keyboards with a more rooted bass; it’s a neatly played slice of dreampop built on the song’s internal contrasts. And “Calculas” stretches wavering keyboards atop languorous dub rhythms, achieving a tone that’s at once majestic and wistful.
It’s the unexpected emotions that Canta Lechuza can unearth that stand as its greatest achievement. Lange’s most complex compositions here make fascinating art from contrasting moods, and it’s that complexity that, ultimately, make this album worthy of return.