In the music world, especially in any given local music scene, there’s a well-known order of operations for most emerging acts. You gig your butt off, you establish a name for yourself and then, eventually, you release an album. But for Zach Rouhana, his approach into the Binghamton music scene was precisely the opposite. His solo career launched with the release of his freshman LP Inverted Fantasy just last week, on February 1st. So when we call Zach Rouhana an “emerging act”, we mean it quite literally.
Given that Rouhana is a newcomer, I rather foolheartedly expected his music to be a little more on the simplistic side. After all, music is something that grows and evolves with experience, right? Most artists wait to release their debut albums, and even their singles and EPs, until they’ve garnered some audience feedback to see what works and what doesn’t. But Inverted Fantasy boasts a quality that drags that mode of thought toward obsolescence.
From beginning to end, Inverted Fantasy is as ethereal as it is musically surgical. Zach Rouhana, who impeccably performs every instrument on the album himself, articulates his emotions through teetering off-scale vocals over deep layers of soundscaping. And all of that comes together with a staggering level of musical proficiency and creative determination that summons thoughts of acts like Grizzly Bear, Built to Spill, and even Radiohead’s most recent opus A Moon Shaped Pool.
You’ll clearly hear some of Rouhana’s other influences, too—John Frusciante, Elliott Smith, and Alex G. It all comes together to give Zach Rouhana’s Inverted Fantasy a distinctly indie vigor with alt-folk drive that oozes with creative adventurism.
Also read: Artist Profile—Zach Rouhana
As a title track, Inverted Fantasy is almost an overture of the talent to come
Objectively speaking, Zach Rouhana’s vocal style took me a bit to warm up to. It seemed a bit clunky and out of key at first. But the more you listen to his singing, the more you come to realize it serves as a cornerstone of the album’s overall energy. His singing doesn’t need to be perfect, because humans aren’t perfect. We’re emotionally complex creatures mired in romantic turmoil and all manner of personal tribulations. And his singing on Inverted Fantasy bottles that essence in a way that’s rather beautiful by the time you finish the opening title song.
His vocal style changes rather drastically in the second song, I’ll Be Your Handout, where his voice takes on a tone reminiscent of Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen. Zach Rouhana finds a whole new set of gears in this track, with a brighter tone and stepped-up pace that parks this song firmly in single-worthy territory.
Over the course of the album’s 15 tracks—nearly 57 minutes of music—Inverted Fantasy establishes Zack Rouhana’s sound as one of alt-folk sensibility with indie energy and a colorful, lofty sonic mist that permeates nearly every track. There’s a wanton exploration of musical tradition here, with elements that intentionally shun the rails to grasp at notes and progressions that are entirely unpredictable in all the right ways.
Zach Rouhana is as much an architect as a songwriter
All of the ear-pleasing adventure orchestrated by Zach Rouhana takes Inverted Fantasy through a broad range of sonic profiles. And on my first listen, I had the impression that this is an artist seeking out a unique voice through copious musical spelunking. But on the second playthrough, I quickly came to realize that his signature sound is already firmly established throughout the album. It’s original, but sends up hints of homages with varying degrees of subtlety.
Songs like Sanctuary, Awakening, and Hollowed Out could have just as well been performed by Radiohead or The Smile without upsetting Thom Yorke’s army of ardent loyalists. Passing opens with the sort of soundscaping you might expect from Sigur Ros, before evolving into a head-bopping groove you might expect from Broken Social Scene. Zach Rouhana is as much an architect as a songwriter, and Passing is a thesis on that concept.
My favorite track on Inverted Fantasy is undoubtedly Heavy Handed, a flawless showcase of all this musical exploration Zach Rouhana exposes us to throughout the album. His vocals push those Yorke, Rossen, and Smith vibes front and center. And there’s a lot going on musically here, with jaw-dropping layers of guitars that bob and weave through a track that visits alt-rock, indie, folk, and even funk. It’s the track I keep finding myself going back to again and again.
Inverted Fantasy is definitely a DIY album, and it really needs to be, too
In terms of sound quality, it’s obvious Zach Rouhana didn’t record this album in a top-flight recording studio. But in this genre and style, that’s a good thing. Inverted Fantasy is definitely a DIY album, and it really needs to be one, too.
All of that perfectionism you get from a AAA recording studio would’ve left Inverted Fantasy wanting for authenticity. These aren’t the sorts of songs where you want sidechain compression or drums arranged “in the grid”. Inverted Fantasy having that bedroom-producer feel makes it feel more personal and adds a certain warmth to the music that harkens back to the 90’s indie days of doing it all on a Portastudio.
None of that is to say Inverted Fantasy has a poor sound quality. You’re not listening to hiss or needless plosives, and it’s not rough around the edges like something culled from the early Guided By Voices catalog. It’s not an album that will easily win over the audiophile McIntosh crowd, and it may not be an intentional creative decision, but the homeliness of the recording has a charm to it that adds to the overall vibe the music itself is putting forward.
Check out Inverted Fantasy by Zach Rouhana
It’s one thing for a band to experiment and push creative boundaries in this many ways. It’s another thing entirely for one individual musician to do all of that on their own. And that’s really what sets Inverted Fantasy apart musically. It’s why Zach Rouhana disproves the notion that a music act needs to establish themselves and gig exhaustively before stepping foot in a studio. This is his purest musical form, unaffected by the pressures of audience participation. And it doesn’t need fixing, because it was never broken to begin with.
2024 will be a big year for the Binghamton music scene. We’re expecting releases from some of Binghamton’s most prominent music acts, including Driftwood, Caviar & Grits, Tom Jolu, Peaches & Crime, and Damn the Kid, to name just a few. So for Inverted Fantasy to be our first album review of 2024, all of that promise for our local music scene has us feeling pretty giddy here at Parlor City Sound. This really is a remarkable freshman effort from Zach Rouhana, an artist we have every intention of watching closely as his career begins to move forward.
You can listen to Inverted Fantasy right now on Spotify, and support Zach Rouhana by buying his album on BandCamp. You can also check him out on Instagram, and if you haven’t already done so, you can take a look at his artist profile on Parlor City Sound. We hope you dig his unique sound as much as we do!