The Rocket Summer--everyone's favorite one-man band consisting entirely of pop mastermind Bryce Avary--had what was in my opinion an extraordinary debut with Calendar Days. And in spite of a stark album cover featuring a very young-looking Bryce holding a guitar like... well, like a young person... this was still a release I was excited for. And it turns out I had good reason.
        The album's starter "Move..." begins with the gentle piano melody and Bryce's oh-so-sweet vocals that are nothing other than completely reminiscent of the
Calendar Days debut. Just a little over half a minute into it, however, the sound explodes into a power different from what we'd heard in the band's first release. Was this our first taste of a slightly stronger sound than what we've first been introduced to the band with? After a brief flurry of fiercely melodic instrumentation, the song drops back down to the gentle piano solo backing, but in a way only he can, Bryce maintains that same aggressive feeling he'd previously backed with the fuller band sound.
        Track two, "I Was So Alone," kicks in with Bryce's full band set-up, and the piano is so catchy and self-sustaining that it's all Bryce can do but sing a steady "oh" behind the sound. When he really puts his vocals forward into the song, however, smashing piano charges behind the aggression of his words. Guitar carefully works itself into the progression and I personally found myself not even trying to make out Bryce's lyrics--I simply let the song pound itself into me.
        With the piano orchestration and Bryce's lyrical/vocal style, this album has a jazzy, high-tempo style almost alike to soulful praise songs. Tracks like "I Was So Alone" are sung with a sense of joy that completely rules out any "sounds like an emo song to me" comments to be made on the title. "Around The Clock" is a real foot-tapper, and by this third track we've still yet to catch our breath. The album isn't anything you give thought to while listening to it; you simply sit back and enjoy a constant downpour of innovational melody and heart.
        The Rocket Summer's vocals are wonderfully unique, and while I can see Bryce's voice getting on the nerves of some select parties, I personally adore his high-note vocalwork that bites at heartstrings on all the right measures. When he suddenly drops a sound down from loud and fast to soft and intense, you become so entrapped within the sound that it is very difficult to not become totally absorbed in each song.
        The acoustic introduction to "I'm Doing Everything" is an interesting change quickly supported by familiar electricity. The song's irony isn't lost on me--after all, every instrument is being played by Bryce Avary. Basslines thunder in a perfect embrace with the guitar, the instrument that takes center stage in this song. The acoustic intro bleeds into the start of "Tell Me Something Good," which is set off with a slow and steady drumbeat. This song smiles--its sound is comfortable, pleasurable, and Bryce seems to be enjoying himself playing it. This vibe permeates the sound of the song and makes the track a relaxed listen that leaves the listener in a state of contentment.
        Piano becomes the centerpoint once again at the beginning of "Never Knew." It's another slow start, with Byrce crooning to his softly dancing keywork. As the drums and other instruments slowly work themselves in, the softer touch of the track gradually escalates into the explosion of joyful noise The Rocket Summer embodies. Keyboard sounds give the song a unique sound from the rest of what we've heard. "Brat Pack" is a fun anthem, a personal testimony put to a poppy rhythm and repetitive piano notes. On the chorus, a very Jackson 5-esque guitar sound makes this track almost nostalgic.
        "Treasures" is persistently smooth and never really picks up its pace, but stuffs all its feeling into a steady mix of piano and vocals. As for "Story," this track really epitomizes all that's been said about the Rocket Summer's tendency to transition from low to high energy: its quieted guitar strumming and crooning blasts into one of the poppiest and most exciting of the backing instrumentations on the album so far. His fast-paced vocals are catchy as superglue. The song is so enjoyable, you'd be just as inspired as me to create tacky metaphors.
        Acoustic arpeggios and calm strumming brings us to "Goodbye Waves and Driveways." It takes a little bit for Bryce to begin singing, and he does nothing to break the quiet mood when he goes, even as his voice gets steadily louder. Drums and violins also do not subtract from the atmosphere but add to it, creating an intensely peaceful vibe. The mood rapidly escalates to an incredibly passionate flurry of acoustic, drum, and string sounds, however, and the song reaches its height only to drop down and fade out with its original peace.
        "Show Me Everything You've Got" is introduced loudly by guitar, and the other instruments rush to meet it as catchy bursts of music accompany Bryce's standard singing methods. This is the height of Bryce's yelping singing that bites in his faster moments before dropping back down to his youthful told-you-so tone. His guitarwork is brilliantly simplistic yet original and catchy. His vocal rhythms are the greatest example of pop work with substance. It ends with a chaos of beauty.
        "Destiny" is a very typical Rocket Summer song. Down-to-earth, pleasant, lighthearted. Bryce's vocals speed up and slow down as is usual, though some production tricks are used on his voice that are unique from the rest of the record. A pounding drum solo is accompanied by delicate guitar harmony, and Bryce comes to sing over it carefully and happily.
        "Christmas Present" is performed on the record in a live-like atmosphere, acoustic sounds trailing along. The track is instrumental with bass and drums for the first several minutes, and it is relaxed almost to the point where you forget you're listening to a record and you simply enjoy the atmosphere created around you. Electrified guitar brings the tempo up, but the mood remains the same. Four minutes into it, vocals start in, slow and gentle--perfect for the song, which has reverted back to acoustic goodness. The drums, electric guitar, and bass eventually come back, and heads are to nod while feet are to tap with the great mixture. The song is way longer than any other recorded Rocket Summer song to my knowledge, even excluding the following pause before the "hidden" addition to the song.
Hello, Good Friend is Bryce's successful translation of his Calendar Days debut sound onto a brand new full-length of material. While his sound and style isn't quite as much of a breakthrough concept now that he's expanding his discography, his music is still very enjoyable, and there was no disappointment on my part throughout it. Unlike on his first release, I have no clear favorites on this album, but I'm sure that the record itself could very well become a favorite of any listener if given the chance.
R.S. '05
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The Militia Group
1) Move To The Other Side Of The Block
2) I Was So Alone
3) Around The Clock
4) I'm Doing Everything (For You)
5) Tell Me Something Good
6) Never Knew
7) Brat Pack
8) Treasures
9) Story
10) Goodbye Waves And Drive Ways
11) Show Me Everything You've Got
12) Destiny
13) Christmas Present
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