The Rocket Summer – ‘Sweet Shivers’

By Fiachra Johnston

There is beauty in simplicity, and many artists seem content to follow the age-old philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. You could name a dozen chart-topping musicians who have made a career out of playing it safe through pumping out record after record in the same formula. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but for those like The Rocket Summer – the solo-project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (and Nickelodeon Double Dare alumni) Bryce Avary – it’s not enough. ‘Sweet Shivers’ is not an album that sits idly on its laurels, but instead chooses to expand upon the work that has come before it, with thrilling results.

As the seventh album from the Texas-based producer, ‘Sweet Shivers’ could very easily have fallen into the trap of being too safe in its production, given the success of Avary’s last outing ‘Zoetics’. Alternatively, this could have been so experimental that it lost the frantic alt-pop, dance-til-your-feet-hurt energy that made ‘Zoetic’ such an exciting evolution to his style. Fortunately, there is a balance between these two extremes.

That energy is still present in songs like the opening track ‘Morning Light’, a bass-heavy song to start the day with, or ‘5 4 3 2 1 Z’, a funky yet melancholic number in which Avary explores concepts of music as an escape from the harshness of everyday life. There is more depth this time around, though – more nuance in the production and instrumentals that help these tracks escape some of the lifelessness that plagued Avary’s earliest experiments with electronic music. Songs like ‘Slomo’ mix trap-like drum beats with powerful guitar riffs and piano backing, resulting in a wonderful techno-organic mix of pop and alternative.

This album doesn’t skimp on softer tones, either. Songs like ‘Garden’, which opens with an old-school piano ballad reminiscent of some of Avary’s oldest works, and ‘Wannalife’, a folky, acoustic interlude that wouldn’t go amiss on a Noah Gundersen record, are sandwiched between these frantic rock numbers. These tracks act as a momentary pause for reflection, both for us and for Avary, and provide some context for this introspective journey the album sets us on. Indeed, some of the best tracks on ‘Sweet Shivers’ are the ones Avary slows down on, such as ‘Apartment 413’ – a more restrained, piano-driven affair compared to the rest of the album.

The result is a record that is a tribute to the history that has come before it. It’s an amalgam of old styles that both sonically and lyrically leans into Avary’s message of progression through retrospection. These are all songs that could theoretically have been on any of The Rocket Summer’s previous discography, but the tighter production makes for an album that is proof you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create something fresh and exciting.

‘Sweet Shivers’ is the most personal project Avary has put out to date, but its desire to reference previous works doesn’t burden it with cheap nostalgia. Rather, it’s an evolution through the recognition of the past, a new take on old styles – and with so much previous work to go from, there is plenty of variety, making for a truly diverse album. There is perhaps a sense of finality to this album through its standing as a  tribute to the past, and you would be forgiven for wondering where things go from here. Given how often Avary finds new ways to surprise his audience, this is most likely far from the end – rather a rest stop to celebrate where we’ve been, before whatever comes next.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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