Robert Sotelo is a mercurial melodist building a resplendent world of pristine DIY pop from the ground up. The Glasgow-based artist’s songs are meticulously crafted, patchworked together with eclectic arrangements and ardent vocal performances. Each of his albums to date has been accompanied by a growth-spurt, 2017’s debut ‘Cusp’ was packed with miniature psych overtures, whilst 2018’s ‘Botanical’ was more keyboard-minded and playful with a near-absurdist palette of sound. ‘Infinite Sprawling’ came out towards the end of 2019 and surprised with songs pulled together like a wakeful stretch, brisk with a lightness of touch. This was neatly followed by ‘Leap & Bounce’ melding a sparse synth-pop minimalism to an emotional undertow. This November Upset The Rhythm will release Robert Sotelo’s vivid new album ‘Celebrant’. ‘Celebrant’ was intended to be and still is to some extent a joyous wedding album (Sotelo is recently married), but in his own words “the pandemic and the death of my aunt Carmen intersected with the original concept so the album is darker than intended in places.” More cinematic and measured than prior albums, Sotelo expounds that “it is purposefully a bigger sounding attempt at my keyboard songs and I felt more ambitious about it in general.” That’s certainly reflected in these twelve sophisticated loops of song, all curiously affecting and catchy, sprinkled with Sotelo’s offbeat musings and keenly accurate observations. Guitars are rarely employed on this record with Sotelo recruiting Iain Mccall, Ross Blake, Celia Morgan and David Maxwell to contribute brass, woodwind, spoken word and acoustic drums respectively. All of these additions blend well with the album’s synthetic core, softening and subtly shaping its pop-first nature into something more nuanced, vulnerable and human. ‘Celebrant’ is a plucky synth-centric collection of unbridled songs at times surefooted at others threatened by disconnect, skilfully steered by Sotelo with typical classy touch. ‘Dear Resident’ is divinely metronomic, ‘Behaviour’ luxuriates in pitching a silken saxophone into a frenzied drum-off. ‘The Currency Is Love’ swaggers with 80s vibes aplenty: “all the globe is listening as a system of concern” sings Sotelo in clipped manner, enjoying the placement of each word in each song precisely, however seemingly stumbled upon and surreal their selection might seem. Other highlights include title track ‘The Celebrant’ with its lush environ of droning keys, swooning woodwind and baroque reverie, and ‘This Is My House’ a woozy, mazelike triumph of melody. ‘Influencer’ is similarly masterful with melancholic strains of synth, sax and voice: “extract the data from the fruit straight off the tree, conducive testing proves it’s not reality, create a substitute to simulate the tide, with rich efficiency the differences can hide.” The song itself a cipher for an ill-imagined future we might be living in already. With ‘Celebrant’ Robert Sotelo has made an album that sounds as big as its heart and imagination, true depth of feeling, true depth of connection. It’s an ornate album, complex and thoughtful, a fitting tribute to a wedding in unsettled times. What a treat that we’ve all been invited to the reception.
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