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Robert Sotelo
Cusp Brendan Telford , December 6th, 2017 09:48

The debut for ex-Joya man Andrew Doig under his new pseudonym - an album of gentle time travel into a slightly crooked other reality.

Robert Sotelo isn’t Robert Sotelo. He is Andrew Doig, formerly of slanted guitar ramblers Joya. He has broken away from the band format and from London and has ensconced himself in the cloisters of Glasgow and his new pseudonym. It has allowed him to delve deeper into his past, stoking the fires of inner turmoil and chagrin and stroking the flames of sonic nostalgia. All of this culminates in his first record, Cusp, an album of gentle time travel into a slightly crooked reality, all slants and slopes, melted colours and warbled notes, gelling together into a toasty, gelatinous whole.

The lackadaisical breeze that sways through opener ‘Tenancy Is Up’ immediately plays up Sotelo’s predilections for the slow and sunny side up pop whimsy of the Beatles and Beach Boys, especially on the downturn of the chorus. The subject matter – Sotelo’s north London flat being sold out from under him due its dereliction, forcing him to reassess his status in the nation’s capital – turns the histrionics into an understated elegy. ‘Bring Back The Love’ sounds like a McCartney kitchen-sink-and-vagaries, awash with vocal refrains and mist-like guitar impressions, one lick and they are gone. ‘Dance’ shuffles along with muted purpose and a simplistic chorus that rhymes with childlike freedom – “In the middle of the day/won’t you stay/okay”.

There is the far more upbeat ‘Let’s Transcend’, which takes on the warm crackle of a record needle turning (which if you are listening to this on vinyl feels like a few seconds in an echo chamber) before we are counted in. Sotelo even steps from behind the gauze of reverb to start that when he “got out of here we can start anew, baby/So what’s say we leave this place, and go transcend, baby.” I’d be a happy acolyte to that Kool Aid mantra.

There are moments of outré play too. ‘Marinade’ plays like a simple ditty on grand table etiquette, all plucks, bobs, hums and shuffles with plenty of space in between each instrument (the most obvious track that showcases Sotelo’s “play everything and hit record” refrain) yet bleeds out into a more wasted allegory of low expectations not met. ‘Bronte Paths’ takes paisley psychedelia and adds the broken country twang that the Ween brothers loved to fuck with, with a simple rhythm section that adds a sheen of cool metronomics where it probably isn’t even warranted.

Cusp is a true pop album in the sense that not a single of the twelve songs on offer break the four minute barrier yet it floats along on the peripheries, a mirrored shadow of the effects that the titans of 60s music has had over the rest of the world. It pulls off the feat of being light and dense, opaque and transparent, intricate and dead simple. The net of knowledge that permeates this album – that of dislocation, the thorny and oft-vile experience of gaining and holding onto benefits, weighing passion and drive against work and friends – adds further layers of shaded collocation.

The juxtapositions at play show an artist learning the ropes all over again and loving the experience, an alchemical kid in a psychedelic laboratory, just on the verge of true ascendancy. This is best shown on the closer ‘Brother, You’re Complicated’, where all of Sotelo/Doig’s thoughts, experiences, anxieties and dreams manifest into a beautiful, considered piano-led coda – “Oh my friend, don’t reprise, never-ending, multiply” – that can’t help but stir the heart and force a speck of dirt in the eye. Therefore Cusp is an apt moniker, as Sotelo teeters ever closer to something truly magical.

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