Indie rock’s greatest moments have always been born of experimentations rebellious and reckless alike, and Paul Rocha’s new LP Apophenia seems to embody a little bit of both inside of its ten captivating tracks. From the haunting, Beat Happening-style “Sister Silhouette” to the fiercer “Sweet Marianne,” Apophenia sees Rocha dabbling in poetic complexities more than he is instrumental virtuosities, and what it results in is nothing short of cathartic songwriting of the most personal variety. Here, he can be reflective (“Like Lavender Rain”) as well as playful and charismatically caustic (“They’re All Dead”), all without sounding like he’s trying to juggle too many artistic elements in one cohesive LP. This took some skill, but more than that, a lot of heart behind the harmonies.
“Klondike” has a less than sophisticated line of string play running through its center, but when partnered with the gritty piano component of the mix, the guitars sound almost drunk with angst. It’s arguably the perfect way to contrast brooding lyricism with eclectic instrumental concepts, but it isn’t presented in such a fanciful manner as to imply arrogance on the part of Paul Rocha. Contrarily, he sounds like an alternative singer/songwriter willing to try anything and everything if it means expanding upon his theme of unguarded expressiveness, which is a lot more than can be said for some of his younger rivals starting out in the American underground today. Excess is wholly sparse in this album, but so is the notion of surrealism being limited to psychedelic-tinged guitar rock alone.
Despite the underlying melancholy evident between the thrust of the beat in “Speaking of Ella” and living within the forced whisper of “The Day that I Fall Down,” aesthetical turbulence never stops the innocent, reverent sense of calm that comes on the other side of every dark tunnel in Apophenia. Hope is never totally out of reach for Rocha in this LP, but instead simply put upon a shelf for both him and the audience to long for. The frustrated desire to escape emotional suffocation while still having something to chase after is teased in the opening track “The Other Side” (“Like to know what this is all about / I do and I don’t and I do and I wanna be alone”) and exploited additionally in the sentiments of “Under the Influence” and “Echoes of Never,” but ultimately left unsatisfied even as we conclude in “Speaking of Ella.”
Paul Rocha’s abrasive combination of unapologetically honest self-commentary and freeform lyrical fantasizing in Apophenia not only makes it one of his most provocative works to hit record store shelves to date, but one of the more curious listens I’ve had the chance to review this June. He comes out guns blazing with this material and doesn’t steer away from any territory no matter how outlandish a melodic path he has to take to get there, and though not a classic because of its earthy compositional wits alone, they certainly make it a standout in this year’s somewhat scattered pool of alternative rock releases.