Think back to your high school cafeteria. Picture the far corner where, behind a tray of Mashed Potatoes and Beige, one student always sat wearing outsized headphones and a look of practiced indifference. Perhaps, like me, you always wondered what music allowed them to transcend grim reality and reach such a serene mind-state. In hindsight, I can say it must’ve been something like Helado Negro’s new album, Island Universe Story Four.
The album, as its title suggests, is the fourth in a series of instrumental collections interspersed between Helado Negro’s official releases. That being said, it’s not a trivial work. The music has an eerie, mysterious quality that befits its creator– a man most often found in the company of a troupe of “tinsel mammals;” imagine the Addams Family’s Cousin Itt, but festive. Island Universe Story Four lulls you into complacency with its first track, “Come Be Me,” one of the few songs on the album with vocals, before dumping you unceremoniously at the feet of “ECHO 2,” a song that sounds like a compilation of vowel noises. From there, the album progresses to tracks with titles like “Mist Universe” and “QWERTY,” each of which provides different takes on instrumental music.
Indeed, it’s a stretch to call the album instrumental at all. The sounds and samples Helado Negro incorporates are so foreign that almost any description holds true. While one listener might hear beatboxing, another could interpret the same noises as those of milk sloshing around a mouth. Herein lies the album’s appeal; its alien soundscape creates confusion in the best way possible. Island Universe Story Four is not clear-cut; instead, it evokes the same feeling of disillusionment as when you repeat the same word over and over until it becomes so intimately familiar that it loses all meaning. By the time you reach the final track, you’re guaranteed to feel more confused than when you started. That being said, this album is not for everyone. But for those who do try it, it’s guaranteed to leave you wondering if you, like all those alternative cafeteria kids, can find higher meaning in such eclectic sounds as a dripping faucet and computer sample.