Hello, Good Friend

Troubled Hubble's second album, Making Beds In A Burning House, opens with the promisingly titled "14,000 Things To Be Happy About," which builds steadily from muted midtempo rocker to searing anthem, and wears its intentions openly. There's no doubt that by the time it's over, the drums will kick in, then more instruments, until the whole track roars like a bear. But there are still unexpected delights in the minor dynamic shifts, Chris Otepka's spirited vocal performance, and the brief-but-stirring closing guitar solo. Troubled Hubble resides in the rugged, artier wing of pop-punk—more Dismemberment Plan and Built To Spill than Weezer or Green Day. Throughout Making Beds In A Burning House, Otepka tells ingratiating stories and provides commentary on common social interactions, while his bandmates whip textured guitars and driving percussion into an expanding froth. The album is packed with moving, catchy uptempo rock songs like "To Be Alive And Alone," a bright sketch of deceptively happy circumstances. A year after Modest Mouse became unlikely hitmakers with the bouncy "Float On," Troubled Hubble ought to repeat the feat with "I'm Pretty Sure I Can See Molecules," which rolls over a martial beat with nursery-rhyme-ready lyrics and a disarming final line: "When you're nothing / You're still something / You're molecules."

Troubled Hubble's most unlikely influence is Ben Folds, whose propulsive brand of jaunty pop is evident in Making Beds songs like "Bees" and "Even Marathon Runners Need To Nap." Folds has had more enduring impact than his bratty early records would've predicted. His old-fashioned melodicism and cutting lyrics made a strong impression on a wave of budding musicians a decade ago—particularly those taking piano lessons. Now there's scarcely a local scene in this country without at least one obviously Folds-esque act.

In the Dallas metro area, that act is The Rocket Summer, the brainchild of pop-piano prodigy Bryce Avary. It's hard to deny the similarities to Folds in The Rocket Summer's appealing lilt and confessional lyrics. The primary difference is that Avary has a nasal warble more common to pop-punk thugs like the members of Good Charlotte, and that generic voice, coupled with piano-heavy arrangements, can make his songs sound a little thin. On The Rocket Summer's album Calendar Days, Avary packed so many hooks and twists into each song that the adolescent whining didn't grate so much, but the follow-up Hello, Good Friend is sparer, cued to the quietude of its brisk opener, "Move To The Other Side Of The Block." Still, even at diminished capacity, The Rocket Summer is capable of the unforced tunefulness of "I'm Doing Everything (For You)" and the pleasantly swaying "Tell Me Something Good," and Avary plays to his strengths on songs like the buoyant "Around The Clock," which has the gawky honesty of love letters to a summer-camp girlfriend.

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