It’s been eight years since the release of Magical Drinking, the magically melodic debut by California’s Apex Manor. While the details as to why it’s been so long between albums are Ross Flournoy’s to tell, their follow-up Heartbreak City out today is more than a proper return to melodic indie rock-it’s a manual on how to lead the genre.
The album is lead by two defining characteristics, the punchy and the soft. On the punchy side of things, Apex Manor brings you all of the indie rock you can handle with tracks that brew with snappy drums and thick riffs, reminding you of so much indie rock from a time when it was more of a genre than a way to introduce a band that just inked with a major label. On the softer side of things, the band adds plenty of thoughtful notes, like a heartbeat set to music. The inner depths of these songs stand out just as much as the punchier tracks, and together they make Heartbreak City a living and breathing organism.
It never feels like lifts, but on the punchy side of the album’s songs, the tracks will remind you of the nineties and all that made that era of indie rock so noteworthy. The opener “Asked & Answered” has all of the energy, the drive and the intensity of what great indie rock sounds like. The squeals from the guitars alone should draw you in, but the song is paced in such a way that you never turn away. This gets followed by the snappy stride of “Where My Mind Goes,” and the single really pops and stands out here on the record. But as much as it stands out, the melodic tones that encompass “The Long Goodbye” make it one of the most immediate standouts of the album. The title track “Heartbreak City” also stands out with its more building rise to the chorus and a bridge that adds plenty of weight to a song with weighted lyrics. In many ways these tracks are like Guided By Voices when they waited longer than two months to release a new album, like Bob Mould when he was on Rykodisc and Sebadoh in the Bubble & Scrape Era. But overall they’re closer to a band channeling Echo & the Bunnymen riffs through one of J. Mascis’ blown Marshall stacks; and there’s nothing wrong with that.
When the softer songs come in, it should be noted that they aren’t sleepers by any means. “Diamond in the Dark” creeps up on you before these post-punk guitar swells come in and really mesmerize your ears. It’s a different side to what Apex Manor was known for, yet it works with a tender blend of hooks and honesty. This occurs again on the upbeat electro-pop tempos of “Actual Size” where Apex Manor changes direction without losing everyone in the process. Of course, it’s the relaxed vibes of “Sara Now” that make a love song sound so earnest and the ham radio tinged touch of “Morning Light” that really sparkle here. Apex Manor is definitely trying new things here, yet it’s not deterring but rather another side to an actual indie rock band. These two sides let you know that if Magical Drinking asked the question of what’s it like to be a modern indie rock band, Heartbreak City is the answer to that question.
Heartbreak City is available to stream wherever you stream music, it can be purchased digitally wherever you buy music online and it can be purchased physically directly from Merge Records. Apex Manor is set to appear in person at Mrg30 in Carrboro, NC on July 27.
Image Credits: Photo by Lisa Whiteman.