Review : The Rocket Summer - Life Will Write The Words
SputnikmusicGetting a grasp on which musicians will achieve commercial success can often be as perplexing as it is predictable. Just when you think you have the next superstar pegged, along comes an unknown one-hit wonder to deflect the spotlight. One case in point is the one-man power-pop outfit that is The Rocket Summer. Texan multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Bryce Avary ticks so many boxes on the formula chart for success, he should have been filling arenas worldwide some five years ago. The story is there... The sound is there... And with superb third LP ‘Do You Feel’, the vehicle should have been in place to take him all the way to the top. Whether it was poor marketing or simply apathetic consumer perceptions, something went amiss as significant sales did not eventuate despite an overwhelmingly positive critical reaction. Successor ‘Of Men and Angels’ marked the first downward step in The Rocket Summer’s career, and fifth LP ‘Life Will Write the Words’ unfortunately continues that descending trend.
In an attempt to recapture his mojo, ‘Life Will Write the Words’ sees Avary returning to his independent roots, shedding the major label tag and self-releasing the album. Since the now 29 year old has amazingly been responsible for playing, singing, recording and producing practically every note of his discography thus far, any concerns over this move should be unwarranted. Yet, one can’t help but feel that Avary’s grasp on quality control is waning, with too many of these - admittedly solid and likable - twelve tracks delivering predictable and forgettable results that fail to reach any great heights. Take, for instance, lead single & album opener ‘Run and Don’t Stop’; with its catchy guitar line and attempt at vocal grit... It’s undeniably nice and competent in all aspects, but ultimately lacks substantial distinctive qualities. ‘Revival’ then adds some keys and “woh oh’s”, while ‘Prove It’ chooses to affix hand-claps. Not only can you practically see what’s coming next (a feat assisted by the striking resemblance to the opening triumvirate of the previous LP), but Avary has lost that knack of simply bettering the fan-friendly hooks of his contemporaries.
By no means a train-wreck, ‘Life Will Write the Words’ does indeed have some redeeming qualities. As predictable as they are, the straight-forward guitar and piano-driven power-pop arrangements of 'Underrated' and 'Old Love' add some catchy, sing-along melodies, while closing rocker 'Ashes Made of Spades' displays some much-needed spark. Avary is at his best, however, when adding a quirky soulful feel to proceedings, such as on the finger-snap filled 'Circa '46' and album highlight '200,000'. Dare it be said that a return to the cheesy, overly optimistic heart-on-sleeve lyrical approach of his teenage days suits, but lines such as "To be with you I've driven far, but I loved you that much" still feel more natural than the Springsteen impression that is 'Just For a Moment Forget Who You Are'. Meanwhile, the faith-driven themes so strong on 'Of Men and Angels' remain dormant here until the album's final third, which disappointingly contains two ballads that struggle to hit any significant emotional nerves....full text
ChristianitytodayAs is his custom, Bryce Avary (aka The Rocket Summer) produced, wrote and played all the instruments on this new record, (releasing on his own label after two albums with Island/Def Jam). Avary's youthful, polarizing vocals still lead the charge as he emotes positive, faith-based messages such as "be the rescuing type" alongside piano, big guitars and even bigger hooks. By the end of the album though, the 12 tracks begin to run together—a predictable pitfall for a one-man show acting as a full band. But the addictive refrains and delicious melodies mostly make up for the album's shortcomings....full text
AltpressThe shelf life of a pop star is meant to be brief. Does anyone really think Justin Bieber (or One Direction, for that matter) is going to be a relevant cultural force in five years’ time? Chances are, no—because these acts function as a gateway artists for young fans, who are still figuring out their identity and musical taste.
The prognosis for pop-rock stars, in contrast, is much better. Most of the luminaries who found fame in the last decade—Pete Wentz, Andrew McMahon, William Beckett and Max Bemis, to name a few—were talented songwriters in addition to pretty faces. As a result, most have been able to transition into adult careers, because their fans have grown up with them.
The Rocket Summer’s Bryce Avary falls squarely in the latter camp. Since releasing his first EP at age 16, the Dallas native has carved out a successful niche for himself—thanks to the nasally (but playful) quirkiness of 2003’s Calendar Days, the spunky power-pop of 2007’s Do You Feel and even the soccer-mom radio rock populating 2010’s Of Men And Angels. Life Will Write The Words, the Rocket Summer’s fifth LP, is more focused than Angels. (At 12 songs and 46 minutes, it’s also shorter.) It also boasts some of Avary’s most concise songwriting to date (the vast majority of the songs are four minutes or less) and a self-confident, unfettered vibe that’s invigorating.
This ebullience shines through via his vocal performances. While Avary hasn’t lost the earnest energy of his early work, he channels this enthusiasm with maturity and finesse—from the desperation inherent in the Tom Petty-style rager “200,000,” the longing permeating the wails of “Run And Don’t Stop” and the fluttery falsetto and soul strut of “Prove It.” (On several songs, notably the easygoing, amplified folk-rocker “Old Love,” he even resembles the Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon if he huffed helium.)
The grown-up vibe extends to Life Will Write The Words’ music. It’s not a new comparison, but Jack’s Mannequin’s later work in particular is an obvious touchstone, from the raucous rock of “Ashes Made Of Spades” and “Prove It” (the latter of which also has a jagged guitar solo) and the somber solo piano number “Scrapbook.” Still, the album embodies everything which makes the Rocket Summer so great—whether it’s the gorgeous, acoustic “Soldier”; the brisk, jazzy piano-pop shimmy of “The Rescuing Type”; the finger-snapping, Ben Folds-like “Circa 46”; and the nostalgic, classic-rock chug of “Just For A Moment Forget Who You Are.”...full text
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