there’s nothing like forgetting who you are when you’re four fingers deep in a mason jar

So, what happens when you have a band (The Broken West), it breaks up, you move to the suburbs (Pasadena), your car breaks down, you’re stuck both literally and creatively, and your days largely consist of porch-sitting and tallboy-drinking? You enter NPR’s songwriting contest, clearly.

With lyrics tackling the songwriting process itself, Ross Flournoy penned “Under the Gun”, a headstrong march through his creative lockup that cleared the way for what became Apex Manor and The Year of Magical Drinking. The final result is a meld of indie pop and 90s alt-radio rock, written in collaboration with Adam Vine and rounded out by Brian Whelan and Andy Creighton.

The Year of Magical Drinking is cohesive and arranged well, but features a diversity of sound: the crunchy guitar of “Southern Decline” opposes the wheels-on-rails propulsion of “Holy Roller”; the aggressively poppy “Teenage Blood” and cut-and-shimmy melody of “Elemental Ways of Speaking” temper the bare-bones instrumentals that showcase the super-sexy vocal delivery of “My My Mind”. The one rogue piece to the puzzle is “Burn Me Alive” – while still likable, it becomes increasingly clear over the course of the song that sum is lesser than its parts. One place Apex Manor doesn’t falter, though, is the lyrics. While never revelatory, they have a certain way of hitting the ear that warrants paying attention.

The Year of Magical Drinking drops 01/25/11.
Download their mp3 “Under the Gun“.

i am hidden in plain sight

As it turns out, the west is not broken. On sophomore release Now or Heaven, LA’s The Broken West offer up a highly polished mix of rock and pop. Though not audio gold, it’s a solid album that draws on sounds from the last twenty years.

Sounds similar to those of Spoon and Something for Kate dominate the first section of the album. “Elm City” carries the percussion of a rainy, late-night autumn walk, strings and darkness brushing your cheek, while the quick drum beat and thudding left-hand piano on “Auctioneer” proves itself an excellent single.

The latter half of the album is more 80s dominated, but not with the angular, artificial sound that usually jumps to mind with the term. Swagger, plunking piano, and fuzzy guitar reverb marks “House of Lies”. Closer “Embassy Row” has a slinkiness to it, and on “Terror For Two” one could almost mistake the vocalist for Jarvis Cocker.

Unfortunately, Now or Heaven suffers one major misstep with “Got It Bad”. The minimal bass, synth, and echo on the tune is Prince-influenced, but comes nowhere near even reaching an homage. The track is superfluous and probably should have been cut from the album or at the very least included in the form of a  bonus track.

Now or Heaven drops 09/09/08.
For more on The Broken West, check out their MySpace page.
Click on the player below to listen to “Auctioneer”.