Published May 30, 2019It's been almost nine years since Apex Manor made a generally positive first impression with 2011's The Year of Magical Drinking. It's the kind of absence many a journalist would invoke eternity to describe.
Luckily Apex Manor (now essentially the project of ex-Broken West frontman Ross Flournoy) specializes in vibes far removed from current-day trends. In this sense, Heartbreak City should please fans of the project, as Flournoy sticks closely to his alternative rock roots here, jangling and chugging away in the vein of Nada Surf, Collective Soul, Neutral Milk Hotel and (one of Flournoy's foremost influences), Teenage Fanclub. It's fairly traditionalist stuff, but Flournoy knows it well, and his West coast inflections help set him apart.
Opening with the kind of feedback that used to be a staple of our rock diet, first track "Asked & Answered" sets the tone for much of the album: noisy yet melodic guitars (almost always multilayered), galloping, slightly hypnotic rhythms, and the laidback, drawling hooks of Flournoy. These latter have a world-weary knowingness to them, reflective of his recent time spent rebuilding after addiction issues; the album is redolent with regrets, romantic and otherwise, leading to some moments of raw soul-bearing that seem pretty authentic. There is real grit here.
What really sets Heartbreak City apart, however, is Flournoy's willingness to pare things back from time to time for quieter moments. The dusky, delicate textures of "Diamond In the Dark" and "Sara Now" are among the album's highlights, for example, trading in the noisy and sometimes overly busy guitars for warm electric piano chords that suffuse these tracks with a desert glow that's highly appealing.
These hints of California-style country-rock resonate throughout the album, rooting it nicely, and when "Nervous Wreck" kicks in and you're suddenly remembering flash-in-the-pan L.A. band the Flys for the first time in ten years, you begin to appreciate certain through-lines you might never have considered. It's these regional elements (along with Flournoy's steady hand) that ultimately save Heartbreak City from the trad alternative abyss. A solid, humble return for Flournoy. (Merge)