The world has changed drastically since Robert Sotelo’s last album on Upset The Rhythm, 2019’s excellent ‘Infinite Sprawling’. As we continue to progress in an increasingly digital age Sotelo’s new album ‘Celebrant’ goes full tilt into embracing high production electronic sounds. It’s an about turn in his Upset The Rhythm back catalogue but actually follows his limited release lo-fi electronic album ‘Botanical’.
Gone are the retro guitars and in come the 8-bit synth sounds of the fantastic opener and 2020 single “Dear Resident”. It’s a message of hope in a world of lockdowns, one way systems and isolation. Squeaky warped synths jarr with haunting expansive sounds that combine to stunning effect with Sotelo’s powerful vocal melody. A great start.
“Behaviour” is a kooky electronic psychedelic pop song that recalls ‘Centipede Hz’ era Animal Collective with its saccharin sweet melodies, stop start dynamics and bizarro keys, which build with childlike glee before a sensational, unexpected saxophone solo. The climax is almost like nothing else you’ve heard before.
Sotelo has been brave with the choices of sounds he’s thrown into the mix. It’s uber-confident. Every sound fulfils both a textural and tonal purpose. “The Currency Is Love” is a lyrically direct observation of the lockdown world.
“I mostly spend my days inside… all the globe is listening, there’s a system of concern… patiently step away from me”.
The bassline is gloriously warbly while, again, there’s an Animal Collective quality to the song.
We’ve said this before but, Sotelo’s distinctive yawn recalls Harry Nilsson on his whacky “Coconut” bent (only without the very dodgy accent).
The mix of wind instruments and cartoonish synths on the instrumental “Cessnock” is eerily dreamy yet, at the same time, vibrant. At the point “Take Control Of it” wonky trumpet synths come in I almost burst into laughter. The percussive Gameboy synth bassline only compounds this feeling. The punchy 80s gated drums are the huge slap in the face required to pull us out of the stupor. This is a highly sophisticated pop song that glides seamlessly between taut and swaying. One of the album’s biggest highlights for sure.
The halfway point brings about title track “The Celebrant” – a bizarre, initially spoken word track with an almost ASMR hypnotic quality. It morphs into a full-blown pop song with Beatles-esque backing vocals combined with bleepy counter-melodies and Dexy’s style sax. He continues to play joyfully with his synths and drum machines on “This Is My House”, cramming syllables into vocal melodies without a care in the world.
“I Am Done” follows with another different approach. The synths are allowed to expand and revolve, the only percussion some cymbal splashes. That is until it takes a psychedelic Beach Boys turn with whacky percussion reminiscent of tracks like “Vege-tables”.
The synths take a distinctly 80s turn on “Through Cycles” which suddenly bursts into a militaristic beat and cartoon Dracula melodies.
You just feel Nosferatu or Count Duckula is creeping around the corner.
The themes of ‘Celebrant’ are very much rooted in the present. It would be perfect to put into a time capsule. It’s a document of the huge shift towards home working, metaverses, social media influencers and data mining. “Influencer”, another early single, perhaps brings these observations to the forefront more than anything else. Musically it sits alongside the more recent works of Dan Deacon.
“Palermo” is a huge stylistic diversion that would perhaps have been welcome earlier on in the album. It captures a chance meeting with a very friendly local, no doubt in Palermo, that works as a vignette of a bygone era of travel. This is intersected by a soothing acoustic guitar and, possibly mellotron, instrumental that brings everything down to earth.
Sotelo wraps things up with the slow, lolloping “True Culmination”. The verses neatly pick up new elements as the chorus drops the rhythm. Finally, there’s time for one last blast of that stunning saxophone.
As big fans of ‘Infinite Sprawling’ it was hard not to be taken aback by the new sounds on show but when allowed to sink into the skin ‘Celebrant’ is something really, really special. It truly stands out on its own.
‘Celebrant’ is out now via Upset The Rhythm.
You may enjoy this if you like: Animal Collective, The Beach Boys, Dan Deacon, Harry Nilsson.