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Apex Manor - The Year of Magical Drinking

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Artist: Apex Manor

Album: The Year of Magical Drinking

Label: Merge

Review date: Jan. 26, 2011


Apex Manor - "Under the Gun" (The Year of Magical Drinking)


Here is someone smart and literate enough to have read Joan Didion’s book, clever enough to make the two-letter switch. Here is someone who was not afraid to couple a volume about a spouse’s death with a year-long, alcohol-aided fallow period – and by doing so, make both seem faintly ridiculous. Here is a prankster, caught deep in a hole, signaling in Morse code with a flashlight, but even so, slipping in little puns, and snorting uproariously at them. My kind of guy.

The guy in question is Apex Manor’s Ross Flournoy, the main songwriter behind the Broken West, who, after that band’s demise spent about a year adrift, carless in suburbia, drinking amiably with his neighbor’s yard workers and unable to write a line. He roused himself, finally, in response to an online songwriting contest. He wrote “Under the Gun” in a hurry, to meet a deadline, and it’s a rough piece of work in the best possible way. A big brawling song, full of walloping drums and brash, aggression-jacked guitars, it sounds like The Replacements on a good night, just before they pass out. And yet, even at its fuzziest, who-wants-to-fight aggression, the song is smarter than it needs to be. As far as I know, the Mats never rhymed “solipsize” with “apologize,” or anything else.

Only about a third of the songs on A Year of Magical Drinking are, like “Under the Gun,” meaty, muscular rockers, and these are unequivocally the best part of the album. “Southern Decline” shimmers like the hard desert psychedelia of Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three, while “The Party Line” flirts with softer, more vulnerable forms, then roughs them up in the chorus. “Teenage Blood” is best of all, a headfirst, no-hands, chaotic careen through all the usual topics of songs like this: lust, drinking, good times.

Flournoy tries, less successfully, a couple of R&B-ish crooners. The first is a Rhodes-glossed slither called “My My Mind,” which is OK, but a bit of a let-down between “Party Line” and “Teenage Blood.” The second, “Burn Me Alive,” is odder, more personal, and clearly worth an NC-17 rating. (First line: “You haven’t even put me to your mouth yet / and I’m already ready to blow” … um …)

There are also a smattering of thoughtful, self-aware indie-pop songs, which are not as effete and whiny as such material sometimes is, but also not as much fun as “Teenage Blood.” But honestly, if you come to this record for the title, expecting rueful literacy and songwriterly self-deprecation, you might be pleasantly surprised by how hard it rocks and what an undemanding good time it can be. The most magical kind of drinking, it turns out, isn’t that complicated.

By Jennifer Kelly

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