Alone in the car, we can sing as loud as we want. Highway//Catharsis is a series in which I share the albums that get me all worked up when I’m behind the wheel. To earn a post, the CD must bring me to tears while I’m screaming along. That means every drive is an audition.
Everything here comes highly recommended for those looking to feel something. Music gains power with familiarity, so if these songs are new to you, I suggest putting them on repeat for a while before you take them out on the road with you.
Setting the Stage
Contemporary Christian Music doesn’t impress me. As a guy who knows tunes, I can tell you that the melodies are lacking. Every time, the tricks are the same, as if a major fifth and some high notes are the only way to achieve an uplifting sound. There is a tendency for popular new songs to be covered by all the regulars, which irks me in its de-emphasis on the record as a piece of art.
As a born-and-raised Catholic, I can tell you that the lyrics are soft. I was taught that a worthwhile life is challenging and fraught with our own failures. Earnest effort and grace are needed daily on Earth. But the voices on the radio only sing that life is great, love is great, God is great! The sternest message to be found is that life was hard before grace appeared, but now it’s great; or that life is hard, but grace guarantees my joy, so it’s still great.
Maybe Bryce Avary feels the same way, since he grew up listening to more Old 97s than Michael W. Smith. His (effectively solo) act, The Rocket Summer, has releases on an indie label, a major label, and a self-made label, but none on a Christian imprint. Yet his songs relate a truly humble experience: he’s heard the call, he knows the lessons, and still life is difficult.
As a bonus, Avary writes good music.
Do You Feel was the third studio album, but produced The Rocket Summer’s first single (“So Much Love”). For me, the previous release marked Avary’s apex of originality, but his maturity as a performer was still on a rapid rise at this point. The composition wanes on a few tracks, but the passion behind his voice never does, and the standouts show enough musical diversity to prove the writer’s talent. “So, in This Hour…” remains his best closer today, and usually fills that role live.
1. “Break It Out”
Two seconds of drone, four seconds of drums, and you’re in. Driving punk stylings race you to the chorus while you sing about activation and the itch to move. Avary does his best impression of a ticking time bomb, and what’s going to set him off? The need to react to the stories we read and the lives we see! “Make this be for something / Or else it’s all just nothing!”
It’s a rocker that crashes into corners, and it plants the message that Avary is feeling: he’s got to be about something, got to quit sitting. No more blind eyes. It’s time to “Start freaking out!”
2. “So Much Love”
No seconds this time, it’s a vocal cold start. Still, you get half a verse before the piano explodes into a full band. This song is a riot of praise: “Strike all the bells / Hit ‘em hard / Make ‘em all yell,” because “You look like the songs that I’ve heard my whole life coming true.” Avary’s honest adoration has him blown away, shown through soft, breathless wonderment alternating with cries of joy.
If any song on the album is made for dancing, this is it, and the whaling sax solo in the bridge testifies. It compels you to join, to lilt and laugh and be loud with the other instruments. On this track, The Rocket Summer pushes to turn your sing-along into a festival.
3. “Do You Feel”
Cold again. You’re talking about those same issues from track 1: “I’m thinking ‘bout other things / I heard about today… / And how these hands could create / Some better things / For bettering / But you see for now I got my own things.” Avary knows what he owes to the world, the power he has for acts of love, and the habits that hold him back.
This is why the song gets to us. We have hands. We use them to play games, to change channels, to fill in brackets. Problems outside don’t belong to us. But “Can you feel the / Souls behind what’s going on?” This song calls us out, and it hurts because we know that the words are true. We know that we allow ourselves to ignore others in need and that we still call ourselves blameless.
The force of the lyrics from tracks 1 and 3 combines with the pace of the drums, never relenting from the first beat. Energy and candor radiate from Avary as his keys and guitar speak for his pulsing heart. Give it a couple listens, and you’ll know all the words.
Do You Feel sustains its artistic merit throughout, and the soapbox message—while it peaks at the title track for me—is repeated again and again, culminating in the epic closer “So, in This Hour…”. The call to take action out in the world is interspersed with other bones Avary wants to pick and a handful of love songs.
I would say the emotions dip to a more comfortable level in the back half, but if you’ve got the strength of heart to stay engaged for 48 minutes, that last song has a good chance to get you all over again.