I first came to Sotelo’s works in 2019, with his excellently off-kilter pop for Upset The Rhythm on Infinite Sprawling. Where that album was a conversation between curdled keys and rubberized guitar, the new record shucks the formula altogether. Guitars don’t surface too often on Celebrant, letting the synths take center stage in a way that feels indebted to ‘80s synth pop purveyors like The Buggles, Soft Cell, or even Sparks in places. Sotelo augments the buzzing hooks with a deluge of brass and woodwinds that add a broken Casio jazz element to the album. The record was conceived as a celebration of Sotelo’s recent marriage but family loss and the onset of the pandemic altered its course a bit, giving the ostensibly effervescent set a bit of a dark lining.
Within the deranged dance that Sotelo lays out there’s a germ of depression, disillusion, and darkness. The skies turn sour and the pixellated party gets doused in sense of disorientation — like the world pulled out from under our feet. This comes to a head on “Through The Cycles,’ but even on the winking “Influencer’ there’s a sneering at modernity that comes through the wires of Sotelo’s world. Like the best of this brand of the ‘80s pop, Robert nails the rubberized Max Headroom reality of it all — a feeling of packaged joy that’s not quite what it seems behind the blare of speakers and the flash of lights. Peel back the dayglo label and there’s rot setting into the packaging, but maybe it’s too late to stop it, might as well just tape it back on and pretend that we never saw it anyway. Put the smile back and dance.
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