Music Reviews
This Is How You Smile

Helado Negro This Is How You Smile

( RVNG Intl.) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10
To listen to This Is How You Smile is to almost be taken back to your childhood. Though the arrangments feel intricate and detailed, the music itself retains a simplistic and innocent beauty and the pacing is languid and carefree. As a whole, it feels closer to coming across an old box of childhood photos and the bittersweet emotions that sometimes come from reliving the memories attached to them.
 
And for Roberto Carlos Lange, that seems appropriate. For his sixth album as Helado Negro, the Ecuadorian-American producer took inspiration from Jamaica Kincaid's short story "Girl," in which an immigrant mother gives her daughter instructions on how to survive in the world. He applied it to his own story, filtering intimate glimpses of his life growing up in an immigrant household and the struggle of preserving familial identity and fitting in as an outsider. The determination in both that story and his own are explored directly on País Nublado, where he sings: “Laughing longer/Smiling harder/Makes me feel/Feeling stronger.” Whereas on the glowing opener, Please Won't Please, he proudly declares: “Brown won’t go/Brown just glows.”
 
Where his earlier work took a more experimental tone and was built around both samples and field music, his music has shifted gradually over time toward a more organic sound that arguably reaches new heights here. On Please Won't Please, an otherwise anxious beat is draped in glimmering synths and warm pianos. Steel drums appear towards the end of Imagining What To Do, as they add soft splashes of color to the gently plucked acoustics and breezy string section. Running begins with a gust of wind that gives way to a slow tumbling beat which carries a gorgeous melancholy piano refrain. 
 
Steel drums appear again on Sabana de luz, where the sound of a slightly out of tune guitar and strings carry it to a gorgeous end. This Is How You Smile feels like an exercise in restraint but not in a dull suffocating kind of way. What makes it work is how even as he continues embracing more conventional instruments and structures, Lange still leaves room for himself to tinker and experiment at the same time. For music so understated and gentle, it's almost startling just how powerful it's capable of being. 
 
Lange has created an appropriately intimate soundtrack for sifting through very personal memories of having grown up torn between his own culture and somehow blending in with the culture of his adopted home. It's no surprise that a sense of melancholy pervades most of the songs—but they aren't completely devoid of optimism either—despite how hard-won it may seem. And as the album comes to a close, he offers probably his most sobering and valuable advice on Two Lucky: "Take care of people today," a simple but powerful plea and the kind of wisdom we could all benefit from especially in such divisive times. [Believe the Hype]