At the very least, one has to admire Paul A. Rosales for his ability to keep the listener interested. A few times through his debut full-length, Wonder Wheel I, I’m still enjoying the sheer suspense of the guessing game this album all but outright invites the listener to play. Will the next song be one of the delightfully warped, mucked-up pop tunes featured on this album, or it will be one of the few songs on here that gets pretty close to terrible? All lo-fi posturing. Aimless melodies, shot through a cloud of inscrutable noise, sung dreadfully. I’ll grant that there are a number of tracks that land somewhere in between those extremes, and they usually feature a cool loop of instruments that are compromised by Rosales’ “Fuck the man, I can’t be bothered to sing in tune” vocal delivery.
Of course, there is frequent merit found in an unconventional singing voice. Everyone who’s taken his or her music taste outside of the mainstream knows this. An impassioned performance from a singer cursed with an unpleasant singing voice is often far more inspiring than a vocally gifted person operating at around 80 percent. On Wonder Wheel I though, and there will be listeners who hear things differently, it sometimes seems false. At it’s worst, it could be called affected laziness, a preemptive defense against criticism. Who gives a shit if you didn’t like it if I wasn’t even trying? That sort of thing.
At it’s best though, Wonder Wheel I achieves something quite difficult. That is, Paul A. Rosales top-tier work sounds very much like effortless dicking around turned fruitful. Music like this makes parsing the worthwhile from the expendable a more difficult job than usual, but there are some clear winners here. “Changed Faster” kaleidoscopically loops one hypnotic guitar pattern into another, leaving the listener mesmerized. “No Worries” manages to build an eerie little universe unto itself without much more than a rising and cascading synth line, unpredictable drums and an inconstant organ. Cheaply made music can be heady, too.
I set out to give this album a less than flattering review. Yet the few listens I’ve given Wonder Wheel I since starting this review have made all the difference. The point being that this one is a grower. It certainly has its share of shortcomings and songs that will not be improved by any amount of listens, but each time through Wonder Wheel I show that Rosales can be insidiously catchy when he finds the right loop. To some degree, Rosales re-uses the same tricks (delay-heavy vocals, a constantly repeating bass line) on every track but, by and large, he makes good use of them. Now it’s simply a matter of developing a better sense about which of his atonal compositions are atonal for the right reasons and which are not.