Dale W. Eisinger
“It's a good day,” Helado Negro frontman Roberto Carlos Lange said midway through his set. “I have a record coming out so it’s nice to share with people that you care about.”
“Sure is,” headliner Julianna Barwick added from the crowd.
Last night at Glasslands, Julianna Barwick and Helado Negro split a record release show for both of the New York based artists – Barwick’s impeccable The Magic Place and Helado’s Canta Lechuza both officially dropped yesterday. And each artist threw down a great set to celebrate.
Alias Pail opened. The Brooklyn boys bent on bending circuits and all the rules of conventional song structure took the crowd on a journey of looping vocals and percussion.
While not nearly as fascinating rhythmically as Lichens or as we know Barwick to be, it is compelling to watch them build these loops live. When the harmonies crest, the impact is dramatic. But in such a limited rhythmic structure, it gets kinda predictable – the initial establishment of the motive stretches the patience.
It definitely takes a little time and imagination to latch onto these guys, and it really helps to understand what they are doing.
In the same way Mark McGuire builds huge cycles of intersecting guitar riffs that end up realizing one harmonic wave, this band is doing taking the same approach with percussion and vocals.
The duo is energetic and confident, despite tweaking millions of knobs, hitting drums, playing guitar, and filling a number of other roles. (Side note: Does every band with an unorthodox percussion influence these days have to hit a tom with a plastic yellow maraca?)
Combining the watery, mellow cool of something like Isan’s Trois Gymnopedies EP and the vocal aerobatics of Tunde Adebimpe, Helado Negro has an unmistakable chill about him without being possessively chillwave. There is something just so cool about this guy, between the Julliard jazz drumming by Jason Trammell, Lange’s quiet confidence and the laid-back, minimalist textures of his beats.
While the live drums at first seem unnecessary with the drum loops providing the skeleton, when you actually realize what Trammell’s doing, it’s an irreplaceable acoustic texture. Apostle of Hustle's National Anthem of Nowhere is a good touchstone, but trade Andrew Whiteman's guitar for cushy synth-bursts and lamenting vocals. It’s relaxing and consistent, with Lange singing in Spanish over his mellow ragas, recalling his Floridian birthplace.
Barwick took the stage solo, all in black, singing skyward, half-hidden behind the curtain of her hair. Using just a few backing tracks – a slight keyboard here, a boomy bass drum there – the star of this show is, without a doubt, her miraculous voice, sampled live and stacked into towering harmonies.
Her understanding of loops is extraordinary, and the strength of her voice to stand alone mind-blowing. When she layers her choruses, the timbre so lovely and the rhythm so oddly in time, we feel the pressure and simultaneous release of something more organic than mechanical, despite the technology used here to produce the sounds.
And this comes from interweaving rhythms fluidly rather than rigidly. Which is perhaps the biggest difference between Barwick and Alias Pail last night -- where for Pail there's a box the vocals seem to fit into, it's Barwick’s throwing off the constrictions of rhythm that make her live performance so exceptional.