Robert Sotelo – Cusp

by Freq | 2017-12-19T16:30:52+00:000000005231201712 16:30

Upset The Rhythm

Robert Sotelo - CuspIf you went ahead and read the lovely interview with Robert, published in this august journal, you will have already learnt a few intriguing things about this unique talent, one of which is that Sotelo is a pseudonym. A pseudonym under which it has been possible for the artist (I won’t name him as it doesn’t seem necessary, but you can find out if you buy the record) to produce this charming little slice of psychedelic whimsy that delights the senses and soothes the soul in equal measure.

Although the tracks on this album have been fleshed out recently by the touring four-piece that is the Robert Sotelo Band, this album was originally produced by Robert and Robert alone on the back of a series of acoustic sketches that came to him in a blur of activity back in 2016. Having the basics of the tracks in his head, what better way to do them justice but to go into the studio and lay them down on his own, thus guaranteeing that vision being fully realised. Interestingly, Robert recorded the album with the assistance of John Hannon from Liberez. Having seen Liberez support Heather Leigh and Peter Brotzmann (and man, they blew me away), I would have said that it was a strange pairing — but I guess the freedom and control that John has on stage allows for Robert to let the character of the songs take him away, but not to a point that they are lost in space.

Over twelve gentle, thoughtful and diverting tracks, Cusp¬†finds Robert in a pastoral, slightly psychedelic, ’60s-tinged daydream. The opener “Tenancy Is Up” has a mournful air to it and the kind of vibe that used to make US pastoralists the Kingsbury Manx such a heartwarming proposition. It doesn’t sound like them and it is possible Robert hasn’t even heard them, but it is a little out of phase, the acoustic guitar and mellifluous keyboard tones are warming and gauzy; a slight counterpoint to the lyrical frustrations that are dealing with the gradual loss of his London flat.

There is a family connection with Buenos Aires and maybe that also leaks its way into the manner of the songs. Although clearly an English album, recorded in London, there is still something mysterious¬† (perhaps exotic is too strong a word), but possibly continental in its imagery. It is sunny and upbeat in a world of grey. A couple of tracks utilise drum rhythms from the 1960s 7″ single Add Rhythm, rather like a forerunner of the drum machine. You could play along to the beat on the 7″ if you either had no drummer or were just experimenting at home. One such beat is implemented on “Let’s Transcend”, which along with some double-tracked vocals, odd effects and a spoken word section, another classic English pastoralist is brought to mind, Lawrence of Felt.

“Marinade” perhaps goes a good way to explaining the appeal of this album. It concerns preparing a meal; “Cut the bread, prepare the jam, spread the table, make it grand”, all to a gentle Bontempi and flute backing. You could almost imagine Syd Barrett kicking himself for not coming up with it first. When it breaks into the final playground chant of “Cook it in a marinade, tell me when it’s hot”, you know that you are dealing with a songwriter with a lovely touch. He knows when to rein it in to prevent going too far. There are children’s television keyboard riffs and way out of phase cooing vocals on “Bronte Paths”, and even a nod to the motorik beat on “Dance” with its wild exhortation to “Dance with me in the middle of the day”. I like the idea of skiving off work, nipping home and having an illicit dance in front of the fireplace.

There is a tinge of Americana on side two’s “Alan Keay Is Fit For Work”. It is slow and sedate, the guitar chiming as the drums struggle to propel the song forward. It tells the tale of the unfortunate Alan, finding himself in the unsympathetic hands of government officials. At other times, you do wonder what is going on in Robert’s head. “I am on the cusp on another idea, give me a moment to find it my dear”, he asks on “Cusp”. There are hand claps and some sort of keyboard bass. Is that a xylophone before the space guitar solo? The album just keeps giving and changing as track follows track, until the pregnant piano ballad of closer “Brother, You’re Complicated”. The voice is sweet and pure on this melancholic tale of help, shot through with an air of innocence that is irresistible.

There is a sincerity and sense of belief in this gentle collection of wistful pop gems, which is ironic considering that they are released under a pseudonym — but perhaps that is what lends them the sense of freedom. Just allowing a set of songs to speak for themselves and touch the listener, if that listener is on the right wavelength. The lovely pressing on clear vinyl came with a handwritten note from Robert hoping that I would enjoy the record. I am happy to say that I did, and would like to suggest that you, dear reader, would likely do the same. I don’t know whether we will see anything like this again from Robert Sotelo, but if not, we have these twelve little gems to keep us warm on a cold winter’s evening.

-Mr Olivetti-

Source URL: http://freq.org.uk/reviews/robert-sotelo-cusp/