One of the ongoing, ever-growing charms of living in New York City is the daily availability of free musical performances. Discounting howling drunkards and inconsistent busking, this was something generally unavailable to me on a regular basis back home. Here, though, between the burgeoning summer freebies - Hudson Square, Celebrate Brooklyn!, Summerstage....the list deserves a post in itself - and the established no cover nights/venues, un nuit gratuit is always an option.
Of the latter, a semi-regular haunt of late has been the intimate (realtor speak for claustrophobia-inducing) and charming Rockwood Music Hall. It was here last week that I was privileged to witness a short, powerful set by Manhattan resident Sam Jacobs, driving his musical vehicle The Flying Change.
First things first, the recently released album, 'Pain Is A Reliable Signal' is an intricate gem of what my iTunes tags call 'Landscape Pop'. This only works for me in the sense that the songs wander across many musical horizons, halting only briefly to take in the surroundings before trekking on. Far from spreading itself too thin, the music maintains an impressive coherence across what is also a fairly short album (10 songs/31 mins). What knits everything together and anchors each song is the delicate emotion found in Jacobs' vocal.
The plaintive reflection of Broken Bow opens the album with a sombre, confessional air and a rich instrumentation that only grows as the songs continue. And, oh, the instrumentation...one of the more impressive - and most appealing - aspects of 'Pain Is A Reliable Signal', with the long list of collaborating musicians adding a tremendous depth to the album that delivers a great desire to revisit each song. Like the best films, there's always something new to catch when coming back that second, third, fourth time.
MP3: The Flying Change - Broken Bow
MP3: The Flying Change - If You See Something
Taken from 'Pain Is A Reliable Signal'
The great variety on offer here further aids the attraction, with the celebratory (If You See Something) standing stoically alongside the melancholy (Hold My Heartache), never detracting from one another. The subject matter revolves largely around the painful illness of a loved one and the long road taken to find a remedy, as yet unforthcoming. Rather than make a hash of covering this myself, though, I would direct those interested to the richly detailed rundown of each song's development, starting here. Ending quietly with the whispered repetition of "I will take your pain away....", it's hard to tell whether this is a promise to another or a furtive hope for the music to provide a cure.
In short, Pain Is A Reliable Signal is by turns both sombre introspection and playful reflection. Richly layered and with the depth required for many a repeat listen, only the fact that it's all over so quickly can detract from an album that channels so much emotion.
Moving swiftly onto the live show, more people crammed onto the miniscule Rockwood stage for this set than I imagined possible. With 4/5ths of the space taken up by the full piano and audience tables pressed right up against the stage, this is not an ideal platform for 8 people with instruments of varying sizes.
However, as you'll have just realised - assuming you managed to trawl through the winding review - part of the charm of The Flying Change songs lies in the ever weaving depth of instrumentation. With brass, keys, guitars, percussion, and backing singers all present and correct tonight, this is not something that will be lacking.
The 6 song set opens with a riotous If You See Something, chock full with clashing blasts of brass, piano, and vocal harmonies. A strained but nonetheless powerful Broken Bow follows, demonstrating again how well the upbeat meshes with the quieter moments of this music. Solid renditions of album staples Dirty White Coats and Hold My Heartache follow to maintain the quality level. Closing with a touching cover of Pieholden Suite by Wilco and energetic newie Valentine's Day, the set is over quickly but provided plenty of high points, only aided by the venue, occassion, and talent the supporting troupe of musicians.
I was going to delve further into the quality of the writing on www.theflyingchange.com too, but alas the hour is late and my updated modus operandi of more concise posting has clearly succumbed to defenestration. Suffice it to say, if you dig around the website whilst listening to the songs, you'll find an author with a lot to say and an appealing style in which to say it. Get right on that.
Official Site / Myspace / Twitter