Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best Albums of 2011 - Three Albums About Los Angeles

"They call Los Angeles the City of Angels. I don't know if I'd call it that exactly, but there are some nice people here."

And so Sam Elliot starts out The Big Lebowski, one of many love odes to Southern California. It always seems bands are writing songs about leaving New York, or missing the South, but with Los Angeles it just seems like home. No one's writing about coming, and surely no one is writing about leaving.

Dawes' sophomore effort Nothing is Wrong fits that bill. It's full of dusty rock n roll seen through the prism of LA, but rooted in the best parts of American folk and Southern rock. It's a music meant for driving, but not too fast, and definitely away from the city. And listening to them wax about charming but sad Angelenos almost makes you think about relocating.

It would take California to bring Ryan Adams back to focus on Ashes and Fire , his finest and most coherent album in years. Working through inner ear problems and clearly loving his marriage to Mandy Moore (still WTF?), he's eschewed the agressive alt country stylings, the metal sidetracks and even his Replacements-style rock for an easy, stripped down, honest album about his life. His voice and songwriting are still as perfect after all these years (Do I Wait, Save Me, Come Home). Does he get mushy and sentimental? Sure, but it works.

Sometimes it's the isolation in a region of 12 million people that gets you. It's being trapped that makes you write. So was the case for Ross Flournoy, who pushed by an NPR songwriting contest found the inspiration for a new band an album. Apex Manor's Year of Magical Drinking is remarkable . Fun and spirited, driven by excellent tracks like I Know These Waters Well and Teenage Blood, it is one of the most accessible and energetic albums out in 2011.

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