Producer Roberto Carlos could not have chosen a better stage name for his musical endeavors. The Spanish "helado negro" translates to "black ice cream," a phrase which gets to the very core of Brooklyn-based Helado Negro's sound faster than any genre descriptors can. Technically, the artist's work spans the excited, lush plucks of Latin folk to the darkly resounding bar chords of heavily R&B-influenced house. But it's much easier just to say "black ice cream."
Carlos, a south Florida native, has been releasing his work as Helado Negro on Sufjan Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty label since 2009's fantastic LP Awe Owe. That record seemed to make a clear musical mission statement — deeply experimental Latin folk that relied upon the locked groove of the great Buena Vista Social Club as much as it did the sugar-rushed, arpeggiated folk of Animal Collective.
But as time has gone on, Helado Negro has become a much more ambitious project — one that is almost unrecognizable when compared to the early releases. Carlos now seems much more interested in blending the vivid folk of his ancestral Ecuador with the sexy, delicate nuances of contemporary electronic music .
His latest album, Invisible Life, is distinct proof of this shift in nearly every facet. Carlos lays his hooks deeper in his compositions than ever before, preferring the sensuality of a subtle shift of an envelope filter to the wild dance of classical guitars. His lyrics, approaching a 50/50 division between Spanish and English, seem particularly concerned with the effects of isolation, but occasionally wander into lighter, more dance-oriented territory.
Invisible Life isn't just his best recording to date, it's flat-out proof that Carlos has what it takes to rank among the best of his contemporaries. Music with a mature sophistication like Helado Negro's almost never gets as intriguing, as culturally diverse and, frankly, as completely sexual as he is obviously capable of creating with apparent ease.
On New Year's Eve, Helado Negro will bring all of that class and confidence to a truly worthy venue, the newly opened Bartlett in downtown Spokane. In a club as intimate as Carlos' sound, he and his two-piece accompaniment will give anybody who's interested a chance to come feel their music's heavy reverberations.
This is a kind of live music experience Spokane doesn't get enough of. Quietly refined, self-assured and nuanced — a cultural movement that's every bit as personal as it is social. With a sound like this, seeing it performed is a chance to witness delicate, perfected creation.
Take your ice cream black. Two scoops. ♦
Helado Negro with Moon Talk, Water Monster • Tue, Dec. 31, at 9 pm • The Bartlett • 228 W. Sprague • $30 • 21+ • thebartlettspokane.com