“Thanks for all of the albums that have influenced me and brought me advice, inspiration, introspection, confidence, humility, ones that opened doors of curiosity, angst, pain and joy. Thank You for the albums that challenged me and brought me happiness through the years. I hope that this album does that for some.” – Bryce Avary in the liner notes for his album “Of Men and Angels.
I could almost leave that quote—which I didn’t discover until a week ago at work —-as the main and only reason why I admire Bryce Avary so much as an individual.
I was standing in the back room at work, nearly a week ago, when I was debating on which thing I should write about next (in the midst of moving some shoes around). I truly wasn’t inspired enough until I happened upon that quote, which had been there all along, and I simply came to the conclusion that I would write about one album that has brought me a lot of happiness throughout this year. The name of the album is “Of Men and Angels,” and I could truly say it has changed my life.
When I was fifteen and first getting into “this” kind of music, I was overwhelmed by how for the first time in my life, I had songs that I could relate to and sing along to every word. I felt understood, but I clung to mostly songs that embraced teenage angst and all forms of negativity. I never really felt connected to the happier side of things, and I had seen the Rocket Summer a few times and I couldn’t understand how happy Bryce Avary was. I didn’t like it. I wasted a good four years of my life not paying attention to his “hardcore sunbeam” attitude, and I missed out.
My love and admiration began fatefully in October 2009, when I just happened to see Sing It Loud for the umpteenth time, and the Rocket Summer just so happened to be on that tour. I stood in the back, but I found myself completely and utterly in love with everything Bryce was doing onstage. By the final night of the three tour dates I saw, I was totally and utterly in love. I blame it on the brilliant cover of “Maps.” I blame it on the passion I could feel watching him on stage. And I mostly blame it on finally wanting to embrace the brighter side of things in life.
I went home after that tour and downloaded every album I could get my paws on. A few weeks later, with a plump paycheck, I bought them all. I bought every single album, and when the time came, I bought “Of Men and Angels” and waited for the album ship to my house because besides having the mp3s, I just needed a physical and real copy.
I always say that listening to “Of Men and Angels” motivates me and inspires me. It literally changed my life. This is the first album that I search out comfort from and focus on the positive, and it’s the first album that doesn’t comfort me by describing the darker side of things (for example, I feel so comfortable with the record “Sirens and Condolences” by Bayside because it highlights every depressing thought I have ever had). It’s almost as if this album gave me a good dose of “the secret” and helps me think I can accomplish anything.
The album begins with the line, “Can you see the air change?” It is almost appropriate that the opening song, Roses, is all about finding your own footing and struggling to do so. The line “but all I want is faith,” is repeated several times throughout the song, and this song ushers myself through the beginning of change. At one moment I am ready to “move the mountains” and the next I am ready to “drown in the sea.” The track in its purest form urges to “keep holding on,” because that is “all I [have].”
Avary creates straight-forward anthems throughout all of “Of Men and Angels”. In “I Want Something to Live For,” he creates depth with even the simplest of lines. My body just gets chills whenever I hear “when the deaf feel the sound,” and I feel confident when I hear “stop fearing that and never look back.” He once again takes a very blunt approach to song writing with, “Pull Myself Together (Don’t Hate Me).” I usually prefer lyrics that try to be as vague as possible, but for some reason, the blunt and straight forward lyrical approach with the Rocket Summer works. Bryce wins me over with the lines “this is a brand new day” and “that’s who I was, not who I am.” Bryce even ends the album on with a simple but still strong lyric——“I will trust that is not the end, but a great beginning.”
The true masterpiece of this album in my opinion is quite simply “Walls.” I formed an instant connection to this song, and I will always hit play on the track a few more times than the others, which all still receive high play counts. The song starts out somber and light. The somber piano helps create the effect that the subject of the song (you) has truly hit rock bottom. The song gains momentum further in and instead of focusing on someone so lost and distraught (and also “trying so hard it’s embarrassing” to stay strong and put up a front), well, the song turns into a song of hope and peace and a promise to “break the walls down.” Bryce Avary’s voice gets stronger and stronger as the track goes on. The message gets stronger, and in the end, the song turns from somber and moody to uplifting and light.
The other stand out track in my opinion is the often misunderstood “Japanese Exchange Student.” I’ve read several people’s opinions on the album, and a quick general consensus is that the song simply does not belong on the album. I beg to differ. The concept of “people wouldn’t know me right when I show up” follows the same idea found in “Pull Myself Together (Don’t Hate Me).” People don’t know you, and even if they know you, they may not know the real you. This song is about knowing people (whether famous or normal, successful or losers, in high or low places), and this song is about feeling like you do not belong. It’s comforting to see Bryce Avary discuss so openly on “Of Men and Angels” about how people are deeper than they sometimes appear. He also preaches about second chances, and he gives an anthem in “Japanese Exchange Student” to the often misunderstood.
All thought and comments on “Of Men and Angels” aside, I recently had the blessing and chance to go to my fifth year of Warped tour. I went to the Milwaukee, WI and the Minneapolis, MN dates just like I did last year. I volunteered to get in for free because I didn’t want to pay nearly $40 for a few bands I wanted to see. In Milwaukee, I can remember saying, “I could watch the Summer Set and Anarbor, but it won’t break my heart if I don’t. I need to watch the Rocket Summer though.” There was very serious desperation in my voice to say I needed to watch the Rocket Summer. I did watch a few minutes of the previous two bands, but at 5:15, I found myself inside the amphitheatre in the far back.
Milwaukee’s story ends with a misty-eyed me leaving after the set and being completely content and happy.
Minneapolis’s story begins with a doe-eyed me running an errand, and though I refused the original thought to cash in a favor, I found myself at 6:15 politely asking if I could go see The Rocket Summer side stage with a please and thank you (which originally, I was never going to actually do, but that’s another story, time, and place). In my head, I had debated about it for a good twenty to thirty minutes before asking, but I just wanted a chance to meet Bryce without the “meet and greet” experience. It wasn’t even about side stage because I didn’t even stand on the stage. I stood behind the sound booth, in this tiny little opening, and I could see Bryce and one of his guitarists perfectly. I sang along to every word and the set went by too quickly. I was a little misty-eyed, and I felt incredibly happy to have been able to see him so closely, but yet so far away from everyone else. I was in my own zone. I didn’t think things could get any better, but yet as he walked off the stage, I shot him a wave, and suddenly, he was standing next to me with a crowd about ten girls.
It took a few moments for me to gain my composure. I rarely “fan girl.” In fact, the few times I have had a fan girl moment can be counted on one hand (all a different story for a different entry, of course). My sister and good friend were with me, and I just remember feeling a nudge from my sister, and her going, “She’d love a picture!” A quick flash of the camera and I star-struckenly said, “I don’t say this often, but your album changed my life. Of Men and Angels is the first album I find comfort in that isn’t songs about hurting myself or wallowing in my self pity. Thank you.” I smiled. He smiled, and I asked for a hug, and even though he was sweaty and quite disgusting, Bryce obliged.
Minneapolis ends with me being star struck and completely content. These 1,700 words end with me saying how interesting it is to fall in love with music when you least expect it. I never expected to become a big fan of the soothing pop melodies Bryce Avary produced—-past and present. I had often told friends I had respected him as a musician, but I told them I would never be a super fan. But I am for sure. I am completely and totally in love with the music and the message. And I completely and utterly respect him for everything he does. In a world of fakes, Bryce Avary is anything but that. I just wish I had realized it earlier.