Genuine self-awareness is becoming a rare commodity in pop music these days, and thus, finding a record built upon such a quality is a big deal. Paul Rocha has always been ready and willing to look inside for the answers to external queries, as evidenced in his albums Crayons and Stingy Alley, but his third LP Apophenia is just a bit more forward when it comes to breaking down the artist behind its creation. He’s scathingly critical of his own artistic impulses both figuratively (“Under the Influence,” “Klondike,” “Speaking of Ella”) and literally (“The Day That I Fall Down,” “Sweet Marianne,” “Like Lavender Rain”), but always in the name of rectifying something previously made broken in his world. Apophenia isn’t just an album celebrating self-awareness, but one imploring listeners to self-improve at a time when accepting whatever hand you’ve been dealt is dangerously popular.
Rocha’s singing varies in melodic range but consistently remains intriguing and harmonious with the instrumentation it’s placed before, whether that be abstract or straightforward. “Sister Silhouette” and “The Other Side” illustrate his ability to employ a hook in the style of ’60s pop songwriters without sounding like he’s simply repurposed a retro aesthetic any of us could manipulate into our own (and that’s not an easy feat). He doesn’t have to break away from familiarity to present himself as a revolutionary in this album, which is half the battle when trying to construct something out of old-fashioned componentry and postmodern narratives at the same time.
If you strip away the music from the lyrics in “Echoes of Never” and “The Day That I Fall Down,” the honesty with which Rocha is launching every verse is heartbreakingly powerful, and without the melodic buffering would likely be a little overwhelming for most listeners to digest. You can tell he wants to adhere to the fundamentals of pop composing while still telling us something that he just can’t say without the backing of a potent instrumental fabric, and with the harmonies in “Sweet Marianne” and “Speaking of Ella,” he takes us somewhere few artists have reached by their third studio album. It’s not necessarily profound but delightful for anyone who has a taste for poignant alternative rock unconnected to commercialized entities in the industry.
Admittedly an eccentric LP but an opus nonetheless, I think most listeners are going to find Apophenia to be as relatable a record as I did this summer. There’s a lot of heart and soul poured into the layered harmonies in this album’s master mix, but as much as I’m inclined to spend an entire review praising the technical ecstasies it features, its true allure lies in the personality of its material. No one but Paul Rocha could have made this record the stinging work of art that it is in this incarnation, and if that isn’t having something purely your own in this game, I don’t know what is. Apophenia is elevated expression for this player, and a can’t-miss spin for alternative aficionados craving a solid fix.