Best Albums of 2019 Spotlight: This Is How You Smile by Helado Negro
A man in a yellow shirt with a sloppy 70’s-bank-heist afro greeted us warmly, joking and then announcing he would play his new album from beginning to end. I remember feeling relieved. This Is How You Smile should be heard together. The drum machine that pulsed behind him was connected to a yellow light that blinked as the beat dropped. Other band members picked up violins for songs then put them down and picked up Saxophones. Different sounds floated in and out while this magnetic centerpiece held us all in the palm of his hand. This short Latino oddball named Helado Negro who doesn’t have the best (or worst) voice set the crowd off with every piece of banter. Every hook he sang he dug all the way into. His guitar work settling and relaxing but not boring.
It is hard to recommend the album to new ears knowing it doesn’t have a clear path to head nodding. It’s not like, “Once you get to track two you will be blown away! That thing is a hit! Car commercials here we come!” It’s a rolling musical experience with different genre elements. If I tell someone my favorite song is Fantasma Vaga and they ask what that means…I have no idea. Some of these songs are in Spanish (I listen to a lot of Salsa so this doesn’t bother me at all but some might not be able to connect). My corrected pitch: This is How You Smile loves you back when you don’t love yourself. When you are sad but not heartbroken or devastated just listless and paranoid…Helado Negro is the voice you need. On Imagining What To Do he implores us to go softly and slowly. That is the same song he says “Winter will be gone tomorrow, just lay inside your dream,” Followed by a soft “Hehe”.
What carried through to the live show from the album is the sincerity involved. He is a sensitive narrator and an intelligent one without any pretense or talking down to his audience. Forty seven seconds into Seen My Aura he announces he has no shoes on and is walking on sunburned pavement trying to look cool and the corner of his lip turns in a smirk. The smirk was always there, but I’m glad I got to see it.
I don’t know what you listen to music for. What you hope to get out of it. I think most people don’t even ask that question. My personal answer: I want to live with someone who is interesting for a while. Whether that is living with Wiz Khalifa in 2011 or Madonna in 1994 I just want to be around someone or some people who are interesting. New perspectives help me build my empathy muscles. A great album remains interesting through repeated listens because of the things you can find in it. The places it can take you even after you know where it goes. This Is How You Smile is built for years of that.
His bandcamp has three songs you can listen to
You can also bump This Is How You Smile on whatever streaming service you use.