When we last heard from Ross Flournoy, he was leading Los Angeles’ The Broken West in the resounding Now or Heaven (QRO review), which elevated the group’s power-pop to a more substantial sound. But then The Broken West broke up, Flournoy moved from Silverlake (‘Los Angeles’s Brooklyn’, at least in indie terms) to Pasadena (best known as home of the Rose Bowl), and endured serious writer’s block. It was only an NPR challenge to compose, record & submit a song all in one weekend that got him writing again. From there, Flournoy rebounded as Apex Manor, and while The Year of Magical Drinking doesn’t have the out-and-out greatness of Now or Heaven, Flournoy is definitely back on track.
The NPR-instigated "Under the Gun" (about the act of writing, recording & submitting a song in one weekend) adds a garage-rock drive to Broken West-ish power-pop. It and the following "I Know These Waters Well" are the most like Flournoy’s old band (and West bassist Brian Whelan took part in the recording of Drinking), but also see new elements, like that garage-drive on "Gun" or a closer feel to "Waters". Flournoy goes a number of different places on Magical Drinking – in fact, probably a bit too many. The teen-rocking "Teenage Blood" and country-garage sway opener "Southern Decline" both work well, but "The Party Line" is too bright & ‘up with people’. The sadder songs sometimes fail to be quite evocative enough – such as "Elemental Ways of Speaking", though the alt-folk strum "Holy Roller" has power – and Flournoy messes around with wawa-ish nightlife on the chill "My My Mind" and "Burn Me Alive"; different, and "Alive" works after a fashion, but definitely out of Flournoy’s wheelhouse.
The mixture of acoustic and loud, fuzzed-out guitars to closer "Coming To" maybe best sum up Ross Flournoy, Apex Manor, and The Year of Magical Drinking – after the recent ups and downs (which did include The Broken West backing up Jason Segel, when he performed the piece from the Dracula puppet rock opera A Taste for Love in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, on a special anniversary episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson – QRO Indie on Late Night TV), the man/band is incorporating it all as he returns to the road.
MP3 Stream: "Under the Gun"