Robert Rotifer - About Us

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 14 / 5 / 2019

Robert Rotifer - About Us

Label: Gare du Nord Records
Format: CD
Bleak but passionate reflection on Brexit from Robert Rotifer, who although Austrian-born has spent the last two decades living in the UK


“It looks like we’ve lost”. So begins the latest album from Robert Rotifer, released on the day we’d had marked in our diaries for two years as Brexit day (29th March). Not that Rotifer ever had a chance to win, as such. He’s lived in the UK for two decades, having moved here from Austria, but as he’s been using his rights as an EU Citizen to do so, he’s had his new ‘settled status’ imposed on him. If that opening line wasn’t too much of a giveaway, this is not a protest album. Though Rotifer has protested, in print and alongside the millions who marched, this is a personal album, tinged with sadness. It is, very much, an album for the converted. But it’s one for the quiet, dark hours of resignation and regret – summed up when he sings “I want to do something that won’t make a difference, not feeling guilty for a whole afternoon”. Rotifer describes this as both the quickest and slowest album he’s ever made. The recording was “done in one”, as they say – from start to finish in a single afternoon, with just a voice and an acoustic guitar. But, these songs are all in their second life – having initially been written for release on his first German-language album in 2017. He then translated them over the course of live shows across Europe and the US. There are echoes of his earlier work in these songs. The regular references to political complacency and the false belief that questions of race and identity were largely settled echo back to his warning – in the song ‘Last Century’, released in 2013 – that “I bet they said the same last century too”, as the world’s powers sleepwalked into World War One. The depictions of disorientation felt by immigrants across the continent of Europe build on the themes of his 2016 album, ‘Not Your Door’, where Rotifer’s journeys back and forth from his current home to his birth-land found him passing bus-loads of care workers and asylum seekers. While those albums were designed to be welcoming, clothed in the shreds of pub-rock, post-punk and folk, ‘About Us’ is, however, deliberately stark and harsh. This is not background music – though mostly a gentle album of lilting acoustic ballads, his vocals rise sharply at times, enough to catch the inattentive listener off guard. Listen carefully, however, and you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Previous releases have always had plenty for admirers of good guitar playing, but this is the first time we find Rotifer in finger-picked mode throughout the record. It’s consistently excellent – I’m reminded in particular of Jackie Leven’s solo live shows and of the mood of Leonard Cohen’s first album. Indeed, a nod to Bert Jansch doesn’t seem completely unfair. At only seven songs, this isn’t quite an album on its own. However, as well as translating his German language album, Rotifer has also revisited last year’s 77 minute long-form piece, “They Don’t Love You Back”, editing it down into a new performance of just under 20 minutes. Here, we see Rotifer’s post-punk influences reappear as he picks up the weary mood of the first seven tracks, jumping furiously between weary resignation to angry protect to love-letters to an England that now seems lost. It’s a fitting and rousing conclusion to the record – though I’d still recommend listening to the full 77 version as well. And, that’s been made easier, as the two releases are now available as a single two-disk package (with the 77 minutes now broken up into playlist-friendly individual tracks). Robert Rotifer remains – as he’s always been – one of the most intelligent and original songwriters I’ve heard and ‘About Us’ is another excellent addition to his catalogue.

Track Listing:-

1 We Have Lost
2 The Knot
3 Westgate Towers
4 Mistakes
5 About Us
6 The Moon
7 All the Flags
8 They Don't Love You Back (Medley)

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They Don’t Love You Back (2018)
Remarkable solo album from Robert Rotifer, one of the records in WIAIWYA's new 77 project each consisting of a 77 minute track, upon which the Austrian-born singer-songwriter who has been Kent-based for the last 20 years reflects how post-Brexit he no longer has guaranteed status in the UK
Not Your Door (2016)

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