Countless musicians have concocted concept albums built around all sorts of subjects, places and artistic influences. But far fewer concept albums can double as tour guide. Enter Gabriel Kahane, the prolific songwriter and composer whose latest work, The Ambassador, draws inspiration from the architecture and culture of Los Angeles. While Kahane was raised on the East Coast and in Northern California, he was born in L.A., and as such, delivers a detailed sense of place in ten songs -- each one representing a different location in the city.
Cleverly, Kahane's songs affix an actual address to their titles: "Black Garden (2673 Dundee Pl.)"; "Empire Liquor Mart (9172 S. Figueroa St.)"; Union Station (800 N. Alameda St.)" and so on. If one were to pinpoint these spots on Google Maps, the record would make for an fascinating soundtrack to that journey, especially as songs hop from one genre to the next -- from complex chamber pop and playful folk to jazz and new classical compositions.
More, The Ambassador uses this framing device as a backdrop to tell wistful and hyper-specific stories about himself and characters that inhabit this world and give it depth. Kahane's Los Angeles feels like a timeless amalgamation, with references to L.A.-centric pop culture and news: Raymond Chandler noir novels, films like Die Hard, Mildred Pierce, and Blade Runner, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, riots and earthquakes.
The Ambassador was co-produced by Kahane and frequent collaborators Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens), Matt Johnson (St. Vincent), and Rob Moose (Bon Iver) and features guest spots from singers Aoife O'Donovan, Holcombe Waller, and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond -- who all give voice to the various people in Kahane's songs. The result is an ambitious and deeply personal vision of a city with so much texture to uncover.