The Rocket Summer, Of Men and Angels
By Alyce Gilligan
March 2, 2010
The Rocket Summer is an acquired taste. This one-man band, starring the endearing Bryce Avary (check out our interview with Avary), has been creating precious piano-punk for years. The frontman delivers buoyant melodies in a voice that is equal parts heavenly and helium, all the while flipping his goldilocks behind a piano wrapped in twinkle-lights … Some just aren’t sure what to make of Avary and his eternal optimism. But for many, his infectious melodies and resilient message have created an insatiable appetite.
It’s been a long time since Calendar Days, The Rocket Summer’s 2003 debut. Over the years, the prodigious 19-year-old has become a 27-year-old veteran. He’s given us two other full-length albums and three EPs, forsaken teenage musings for a compassionate worldview, inspired a die hard “Brat Pack” of fans, and even convincingly covered Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You”, the gut-wrencher from the Garden State soundtrack. While much has changed, listeners can always expect that the multi-instrumentalist will pen powerful songs deeply rooted in a proven faith. He’s the hopeful hero that the To Write Love on Her Arms generation was looking for. And now he returns victoriously with his most “spiritually charged” work, Of Men And Angels, the second album with Island Def Jam Records.
This is the purest release yet from an already squeaky-clean artist. Avary went for an organic production process, limiting auto tune and chopped tracks in favor of raw vocals and full instrumental takes. This musical sincerity is coupled with honest lyrics remarkably void of metaphors. Though an openly Christian musician, Avary has sometimes played his faith close to the chest, wrapping it lovingly in witty layers. Perhaps after the year that was 2009, he found it more effective to put that golden heart on his sleeve. As Avary admits on “Nothing Matters”, “I know it’s not too sexy that I’m singing about the blessings we get when we give ourselves up for something good.” Sexy or not, Avary’s excitement over a selfless life would encourage even the harshest critic to think, “I want what he’s having.”
While Of Men and Angels lacks some of the punch fans fell in love with on Do You Feel and Hello, Good Friend, The Rocket Summer still can craft a sing-along. “Hills and Valleys”, “Light”, and “You Gotta Believe” were all featured on last fall’s You Gotta Believe EP, and are some of the best on the album, as well. “Pull Myself Together (Don’t Hate Me”) is a battle cry for bettering oneself, heightened by gliding guitars (“How will they understand that’s who I was, not who I am, I’m not a perfect soul, I’ll fall again I know”). The title track, “Of Men and Angels”, with its stirring piano intro, expresses Avary’s struggle between his career and a higher calling (“Here I am, dear Lord, tasting hints of fame, And I don’t want it anymore, if it’s not you that I gain”). This timely sentiment is well placed on an album that debuted at #1 on iTunes… “I Want Something to Live For” is the kind of syncopated, conversational jam The Rocket Summer is known for (and who doesn’t love a stick count?). By far the most unique offering is “Nothing Matters”, which swells from soft vocals and snapping, to a driving chorus, and ends with convicting shouts. The only sour notes occur when Avary breathily explores his lower range on songs like “Walls” and “Hey”, or in the awkwardly drawn spiritually parallels of “Japanese Exchange Student.” But “Tara, I’m Terrible”, the only touch of romance on the album, is an acoustic apology to Avary’s wife that would get you to forgive him of anything (“Tara, I’m terrible for telling the whole world about how you’re so terribly tolerant of my crazy antics”).
Bryce Avary is undeniably edgy—though not in the way that you’d ordinarily think of. He has pulled off the impressive feat of maintaining credibility in a market that ordinarily places emo-cynicism above smiley spirituality. And despite irrepressible cheer and a mastery of multiple instruments, he’s somehow made himself not only believable, but relatable. Yes, when speaking of men and angels, one wonders if Avary isn’t a little bit of both ... Either way, The Rocket Summer’s latest release will not fail to lift the spirits of his faithful fans.