Abrasive Trees - Epocha (Album Review)

We might gather a few dozen epochs in our life, experiences bookended by the different perspectives of the human experience. These periods become essential to our identity, and relishing in our fond memories is the only retribution for the suffering of life; ultimately, all we have are our experiences.

Apologies for the dramatic introduction, but I've just been listening to Epocha, a soul-stirring CD-only album of polynomial genre classifications by British outfit Abrasive Trees. Focused on the writing and recording work of Matthew Rochford, Abrasive Tress produce mind-bending pieces of peculiar songwriting and atmospheric sonic world-building.

Epocha collates work from 2019 to 2021, when Rochford worked on a body of songs bred from isolation, collaborations with mixing artist Mark Beazley, and input from a cast of contributors. The result is a collection of decidedly transient music which shifts between distorted and edgy post-rock experimentalism and inquisitively bittersweet atmospheric synth-pop. Primarily, the delivery swaps clarity for shadowy illusiveness, like on "Now You Are Not Here", where vocalist Jo-Beth Young contributes to a song about the disillusionment of dysfunctional family dynamics. 

While the musicianship throughout the compilation is loose and carefree, the spine comes from the drum machine. That's not a slight. Rochford intuitively works the persistently energetic qualities of programmed drums into his songs, especially with the low-in-the-mix industrial drums of "Bound For An Infinite Sea" merging with the hazy wash of bass, palatial guitars, and reverb-laden vocals. The natural charm of this track only fully hits on the second or third listen. Likewise, "Without Light" gets by on passion and focus as Rochford asks his audience to meet him halfway between obscurity and indifference. 

Sometimes, it's hard to know if the music guides the production or vice versa. There's personality to both, and what can sound like bottom-of-the-barrel sessions given new life through production trickery and clever collabs soon reveal themselves to be enormously sentimental and proudly escapist music which yearns for the warmth of sedation music can offer.

When Rochford goes instrumental, he moves his spacey sagas to the more accessible, like on "Replenishing Water", a piece which stretches with desert-scope minimalism towards a plateau of rocky psilocybin jams, the uplifting "Ashram Song", which brings folk acoustics and exotic tones to the mix, and the ambient search of "Before", which pulsates like a bobbing ocean.  

The specifics of what happened to Rochford between 2019 and 2021 cannot be known, but they can be sensed throughout this album, which spans layers of moods and investigative sonic self-therapy. 

Epocha by Abrasive Trees is an album for late-night drives. Its romantic core may be shielded with layers of distortion and ambiguity, but travel with it long enough, and you'll find it, or at least some of it. Other parts may only reveal themselves in retrospect.  


Epocha on Bandcamp