Brooklyn-based Helado Negro’s recent series of EPs, Island Universe Story, has proven somewhat difficult to categorize. Though they’re not the four- or five-track teasers we’ve come to expect from releases between albums, none of them feel quite robust enough to stand on their own as full-length LPs. They share thematic elements, but I wouldn’t say they’re all that similar to one another, either. Like chapters of a novel, each installment builds on the framework of the last before branching off in its own direction.
Island Universe Story Three drops today on Asthmatic Kitty Records, and like much of the artist’s previous work, it’s a record that’s best enjoyed in a single sitting. Helado Negro has never exactly been big on singles (though last year’s “Dance Ghost” is a notable exception), and he tends to focus more on the album as a cohesive experience. Like its siblings One and Two, Three is a diverse arrangement of fully fleshed-out compositions, brief, meditative interludes, and meandering soundscapes.
“Salva Nada,” for example, builds over five minutes from sparse, breathy synths into an engrossing symphony of dynamic instrumentation and vocals, then fades slowly back into silence. “Levantar Las Piernas,” on the other hand, opens with a punch of rhythmic, hypnotic guitars that provide driving momentum for its duration. The vocals are similarly mesmerizing, and almost feel reminiscent of some sort of arcane religious chant.
“Lechuguilla, Bassapella” offers only an austere bowed bass and some reverb-soaked, falsetto vocals, but it stands out as one of my favorite tracks on the whole EP. In contrast with the other songs that rely heavily on electronics, an acoustic digression like this helps to ground the album and broaden its horizons a bit.
“Suntan Overcoat,” “The Elephant’s Foot,” and “Antes” are certainly interesting experimental pieces, but they don’t have all that much going on that warrants discussion. They’re essentially reprises that tentatively explore the more abrasive electronic sounds used elsewhere on the record. They certainly serve an important role in bridging the more developed tracks, though, and help preserve the flow of the album.
Overall, Island Universe Story Three is a really enjoyable addition to the series. And while this chapter alone isn’t going to be quite as satisfying for fans as a full-length record, Island Universe Story as a whole is starting to come together into a fairly robust work. I suggest you dim the lights, lie back in a comfortable chair, and play the three in sequence, as I think they’re best appreciated when you can truly immerse yourself in the music. Helado Negro isn’t flashy or loud, but you’ll certainly get as much from it as you’re willing to put in.