I can think of few records that are more soothing this year than Private Energy. It is a record unto itself in a year that insists upon hooks, angles and headlines. Instead of looking outward toward big name collaborators, Private Energy is imbued with the personal perspective of Robert Carlos Lange — aka Helado Negro — in a way that supersedes his previous work. That’s one of the best parts about it.
Somewhere between the playful kook of Randy Newman and the introspective instrumentalism of Sufjan Stevens (who took him on tour and is releasing this record on his own label), Lange create songs that seem to wrap themselves around you and brush you in brightness, there is a physicality to his music that’s mimicked by the way his signature Tinsel Mammals appear onstage. One even appears on the album artwork for his latest album.
The Tinsel Mammals are choreographed humans who perform onstage and in music videos alongside Lange. He’s been using them to enhance his live act since 2014 but recently wrote that he “began to realize they are an embodiment of the sounds generated and abstract interpretations of the movement of the compositions.” I feel that; his music sound like these dancers look, slightly bizarre, increasingly gentle, glittering without demanding anything from you.
But the specifics of Private Energy are what catapults this record from another pleasant songwriter record to something else entirely. Speaking to Fader earlier this year, the Ecuadorian-American producer explained that on Private Energy, his fifth album, he sought to embrace his Latin American identity more than ever.
“The album is about what I have to deal with as an artist, performer, and whatever I’m doing in my personal life. I want to have a career in this music industry system but I’m constantly changing what I do. So it’s about embracing myself, not sabotaging what I build.”
Lange grew up in Florida as a first-generation American to Ecuadorean parents who had immigrated here. Now, he lives in Brooklyn, but you can still hear plenty of heady humidity and swampy Southern influences in the way he constructs beats or twists phrases. The record is deliciously bilingual, flipping in and out of English and Spanish with the same fluidity that many Latin Americans use on a daily basis in their conversations.
It is a reminder, during a time when many marginalized identities have been under attack from the GOP candidate Donald Trump, that nothing in American history can really be divided into clear black, white, or brown designations. It is a reminder of the way cultures continuously inform one another, but that some have been given more limelight than others. Private Energy shines a low, glimmering spotlight on the Latin identity: It is essential listening.
As those of us who don’t subscribe to this divisive rhetoric search for ways to support one another in helpful ways, I find myself returning to Lange’s record time and again. By listening, I feel like an active participant in the affirmation he is offering to others. By listening, I remember how powerful it can be when I too choose to offer those affirmations to others. Lange’s music is a reminder, in the best way, of how to be a better person, a more aware citizen, and a more sensitive friend. And it achieves these heavy tasks without sacrificing an ounce of charm and intimacy.
The song on the record that most specifically speaks to the current political climate is a grooving, tender ballad called “Young, Latin And Proud.” It takes the three signifiers and twists them into a lullaby — psych-folk translated into a poem for those who need, more than ever, to feel pleasure and pride in their heritage. Private Energy is so soothing precisely because of the gentle glee it finds in the mundane corners of existence, and the way it names exactly what those basic elements are for Lange himself, and by extension, many others: Young. Latin. Proud. Listen below.