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Rotifer - The Cavalry Never Showed Up

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 7 / 10 / 2013

Rotifer - The Cavalry Never Showed Up
Label: Gard Du Nord Records
Format: CD


Exceptional second UK album of abrasive pop from Rotifer, the band of Austrian-born yet now Canterbury-based singer-songwriter Robert Rotifer

Rarely do albums have you completely hooked from the very first line - “You know I'd come from a time when every other bore/Felt the need to pretend to see it all before”. During the next five minutes, over a tearaway pop-punk workout the Jam would have been delighted with, Rotifer lets rip at everything bugging us about living in 2013, concluding “I Just Couldn't Eat As Much (As I'd Like To Throw Up)”. Speaking to Pennyblackmusic recently, songwriter Robert Rotifer happily described it as a “rant”, but also said it was a rare occasion of having complete confidence in a song as soon as it was written. That confidence is not misplaced. Previous Rotifer albums have had their fair share of very good songs, but this is unambiguously great. The question, the first time you hear it, is whether the rest of the album lives up to it. 'Black Bag' takes you by surprise, beginning with a series of piano chords that could have come straight from 'The Dark Side of the Moon'. Reviewing Pink Floyd's magnum opus, Alexis Petridis once wrote that the whole album sounds like “one long, resigned, sigh”. That is exactly the function this instrumental passage serves on 'The Cavalry...'. After the frenetic opening, it is as if the listener is told, gently, to calm back down. This won't just be 40 minutes of charged up agit-pop. After a few listens, 'Black Bag' firmly establishes itself as the other pivotal track. This song was recorded in a live take, and – by the final verse – the microphone had fallen over, and the vocals were delivered crouched on the floor. You can hear this unusual mix of determination and desperation on the recording. The album has only one small misstep. 'Underfunded of London', the tale of a family whose life disintegrates in the face of unemployment, though a pertinent subject, sounds a little forced. It contains the album's only clunky lyric - "The smallest thing starts a fight/They couldn't even agree on suicide" – not what I would define as a small thing. And yet, even this has an easy, Kinksian melody. You won't need to skip it. The rest is fairly evenly split between jaunty 60's pop and gritty pub-rock – the quality, though, never lets up. Co-producers (Giles Barrett of London's Soup studios and drummer Ian Button, once of Thrashing Doves and Death In Vegas) can take a bow – you would never know this album was actually recorded on a bare bones budget. In such safe hands, Rotifer has chosen a good time to begin experimenting with Wilko Johnson-styled fingerpicked electric guitar solos. For every nagging rhythm and surging riff, there is a carefully constructed lyric. Rotifer's songs only sound like rants when they are designed to be so. For the most part – even amidst some dark subject matter – the songs are characterised by unexpected references, canny images and a droll wit. That is enough to make songs about redundancy, complacency and powerlessness consistently entertaining. Take 'Ms Pedantovic Resigns', for example. In this, Rotifer looks at the secretaries whose job was to count the words in each newspaper article – giving them the ultimate power over how much each writer, no matter how well reputed a byline, got paid. An entire profession disappearing after so simple an invention as the 'word count' is both tragically comic and absurd. Set to a jaunty rhythm, Rotifer appears to be playing this one for laughs, until the song's unexpectedly abrupt ending twists the listener's initial response on its head. 'The Cavalry Never Showed Up' ends gently with 'So Silly Now', an acoustic counterpoint to its opening track. On this, Rotifer seeks comfort in his old records, only to find that the “textbook rebellion” they convey sounds “so silly now”. Yet, he concludes that in these “darkest days” he will need those old records, their naivety comfortingly easy to believe in. And yet, on the rest of this album, he has demonstrated that it is possible, after all, to tackle the complexities of our modern malaise. Rotifer is not the only contemporary songwriter writing intelligently about post-recession era Britain (for example, both Quiet Loner, in 2012 and Chris Wood, this year, have offered up classic albums), but he is one of the few. His songs are by turns both bracing and inspiring. Until now, Rotifer has not been well known outside of his native Austria, despite having lived in Britain since the late-1990s, but this album has already enjoyed more widespread reviews and BBC 6 Music airplay, Officially released on October 14th, I have been lucky enough to have had a copy for several months and I have listened to no other album more often in 2013 - it really is as good as I say. The temptation, faced with a band who have so dramatically upped their game, is to wonder where they can possibly go from here. And yet, these songs were actually recorded only a few months after bassist Mike Stone joined the band. The next album, you therefore reason, is liable to be even better

Track Listing:-
1 I Just Couldn't Eat As Much (As I'd Like to Throw Up)
2 Underfunded of London
3 Black Bag
4 The New Fares
5 Last Century
6 November
7 From Now On There Is Only Love
8 Middle-Aged Man
9 Wear and Tear
10 Ms Pedantovic Resigns
11 Optimist Out On the Open Sea
12 So Silly Now

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Interview (2013)
Rotifer - Interview
Ben Howarth chats to Austrian-born singer-songwriter and music journalist Robert Rotifer about his indie pop trio Rotifer's forthcoming second UK album, the politically abrasive 'The Cavalry Never Showed Up', which is being released on Gare du Nord, a new label collective
Interview Part 1 (2012)
Interview Part 2 (2012)

live reviews

Rotifer, John Howard and Mel Mayr - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 26/11/2014
Rotifer - Rotifer, John Howard and Mel Mayr - Servant Jazz Quarters, London, 26/11/2014
In the second of two showcases from record label and collective Gare du Nord, Ben Howarth at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London enjoys sets from indie trio Rotifer, rediscovered 70's singer-songwriter John Howard and Austrian singer-songwriter Mel Mayr who was playing her first British gig

digital downloads



The Hosting Couple (2012)
Unconventional, but marvellous pop on sixth album from Rotifer, the project of Austrian born, but now London-based singer-songwriter Robert Rotifer

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