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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

"Hello, Good Friend"

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 1 Jul
  • COMMENTS
"Hello, Good Friend"
Sounds like … wild, hook-laden piano-based pop/rock a la Ben Folds, Mae, Copeland, All Star United, and Dashboard Confessional.At a glance … Bryce Avary's lead vocals will be an acquired taste for many, but there's a lot of impressive rock writing and musicianship to be appreciated on The Rocket Summer's national debut.Track ListingMove to the Other Side of the BlockI Was So AloneAround the ClockI'm Doing Everything (For You)Tell Me Something GoodNever KnewBrat PackTreasuresStoryGoodbye Waves and DrivewaysShow Me Everything You've GotDestinyChristmas Present

This is not your typical Christian rock debut, but then again Bryce Avary is not your typical Christian artist. The 22-year-old from Dallas learned guitar and drums by the age of 12, and then decided to pick up bass and piano for good measure by 16. Absorbing all things pertaining to music throughout high school, he began work on his first independent project with the financial support of his parents. Operating under the moniker The Rocket Summer, Avary has since generated buzz in the indie rock scene after opening for major artists (Copeland, Mae, Relient K) and signing with Sony's Militia Group label.

And that's all before the mid-2005 release of "Hello, Good Friend,"The Rocket Summer's national debut and sophomore effort, now distributing to the Christian market. Avary's passionate about the "roaring lamb" model, remaining open about his faith while also treading the fine musical line that can appeal to Christians and non-Christians alike. There are themes of doubt, hope, and unconditional love, and depending on the track, some are about God while others are about everyday romance (inspired by Avary's recent marriage to his high school sweetheart).

Avary's lyricism often feels like stream-of-consciousness emoting, so he tends to alternate between clever and awkward phrasing. "Story" illustrates both in its frenetic delivery: "You don't know just when to stop, you're living life to be on top/So step back and be real, and just admit the way you feel, and see that we are all one big learning gang/And it's true that we all wanna be the baddest, we all have a little baggage/Even though we hide it and we always deny it, we are driving this float down Main in this pride parade." Sometimes Avary's words come across almost as bubblegum as David Cassidy or as occasionally juvenile as some of Ian Eskelin's work. It can be a bit much, yet also fun, provided you know what you're in for with songs like "Brat Pack" (about coping with arrested development) and "Around the Clock" (celebrating unconditional love).

But there are also parts where Avary admirably expresses everyday life and emotions while applying his faith outlook. The brief introductory "Move to the Other Side of the Block" is a clever, somewhat indicting metaphor to explain why he makes faith-based music beyond the typical Christian scene. "Destiny" meanwhile clearly communicates his desire to serve others: "If I were you, I'd be asking every single person I knew/To just please say a prayer for me/'Cuz I will most assuredly die this century/And in this opportune-filled life that I will leave/I hope to God that I lived for you and not for me." Examples like these reveal him capable of more maturity and breadth.

What really works well for The Rocket Summer is the fun and gutsy sound, co-produced with Tim O'Heir (All American Rejects). Avary capably plays every instrument on this disc except for some strings on one track, and that's especially impressive considering there's nothing programmed here, playing with all-out piano-based indie rock bravado. Like Ben Folds meets All Star United, Copeland, and Daniel Bedingfield, it's melodic, aggressive, and often a blast, though it can also be a bit repetitive overall. "Goodbye Waves and Driveways," a definite album highlight, initially offers a welcome respite of acoustic quiet, though even here Avary can't resist from unleashing some more of his explosive rock toward the finish.

The greatest hindrance for most people's enjoyment of The Rocket Summer, however, will be Avary's voice. Often whiny and sounding seven years younger than he really is, Avary resembles Plus One's Nate Cole or perhaps Justin Timberlake. Yet he also lets loose some passionate rock yowls, absolutely shredding his voice to jaw-dropping effect (though sometimes it also humorously reminds me of Neil Diamond). Something tells me the vocals come off more impressively in concert, and admittedly even Ben Folds' voice takes some getting used to. Indie rock fans probably won't even flinch, but those seeking a polished voice that doesn't stray from the melody may hate it.

There's still ultimately so much here to appreciate. Avary has a lively and entertaining rock persona, giving the music his all. A little more guidance with future projects and he may be a force to be reckoned with. There's a better album from this guy waiting to be made, but The Rocket Summer is on point enough musically to be considered one of the year's brighter new talents in Christian music.

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