Rock ‘n’ roll has been inspired by crazier things than a Mother Teresa quote, to be sure, but the Rocketboys aren’t really about crazy. On their latest album, Build Anyway, the guys are about simplicity, about quiet build, subdued reflection, pulsing melody and the subtle surprise of a sing-a-long. Which makes the two famous sentences that inspired both Teresa’s devotees and the Austin indie rockers pretty perfect, if not exceptionally rockin’: “What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.”
Funneled through the band’s recent history, the message is a pointed one. Originally known as Homer Hiccolm & the Rocketboys, per the Jake Gyllenhaal movie and its real-life inspiration, the band has slimmed down its name and its lineup since 2010 EP Wellwisher, losing two original members before trudging toward a full-length follow-up. And then there were three: Re-imagined by remaining members Josh Campbell, Brandon Kinder and Justin Wiseman, the result is a sparse, structured and ultimately ambitious album charged by loss and propelled by collaboration.
Mixed by C.K. Eiriksson (U2, Phish), the album breaks the surface of summer pop early on with delicate, self-referential opener “Bloodless.” “It’s hard because I’m bloodless,” Kinder croons dreamily through a field of brass. And while he doesn’t actually sing much else on that one, the line carries throughout the remaining songs, which build on each other like expertly placed Jenga blocks. From “Bloodless”’s timid organ to “Marching to the Palace”’s weightless chorus, Build Anyway finds frequent footing in a blend of heavy content and heavier layers framed in endlessly energetic melodies.
Jaunty piano, extended intros, lush outros and rising choruses feature heavily, allowing the guys to craft texture from within, saturate it in sound and then eventually, lavishly, redoubling the efforts in a crescendo. The soundscape is sunny, if the lyrics are not: “These are hard times now,” Kinder sings, later navigating a terrain dotted by lies, heartbreak and growing pains. (Come to think of it, the word “hard” might be the most frequent flyer on the album.) As the band channels a progressively larger swatch of insight and personal challenge, its once tight grip on the album’s direction grows fuzzier. On “Hallowed Ground,” whispered lyrics melt into polite piano and then into foggy ambience, only to be renewed in the galloping drums and heart-sore proclamations of album closer “The Best.”
Its finale offers Build Anyway’s only whiff of over-compensation. Dominated by sweeping crests, every song could be interpreted as a ballad, and most would fit easily on the shelf next to Band of Horses and Bon Iver. Is it self-serious? Frequently. Lovely? Consistently. Road trip-ready? Definitely.