Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pain is a Reliable Signal

From the title of this post, one would think this is a continuation of yesterday's depressing musings. But actually, today I'm playing the role of proud older sister.

Remember last month when I went to New York for my brother Sam's gig? It was his CD release party for his new album, Pain is a Reliable Signal. He records under the name "The Flying Change" -- the name is inspired by the poetry of Henry Taylor, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who happened to be our dad's roommate at the University of Virginia.

Today the album drops nationally. He's been doing tons of press for it, sending the album out to indie rock and college radio stations all over the country. So this post is my way of plugging the album and doing a bit of bragging about my little bro, who I think is super cool.

And not just because I think the album is really, really good. But because Sam loves making music and was brave enough to do something about it. He's a terrific songwriter, but rather than writing songs and keeping them in a notebook, he hooked up with an acclaimed songwriter, producer, and award-winning composer, Paul Brill. He and Paul worked on editing the songs and then got them recorded by a collection of incredible musicians -- people that had played with bands like Radiohead and The Black Crowes and They Might Be Giants and The Saturday Night Live Band.

So my pride, and really, the pride of our whole family (nachas, to use a Yiddishism), stems not just from the fact that the album was made by the baby of the family, this quirky, funny kid who grew into a whip-smart, intense, creative man (who also happens to be one of the most interesting people I know). That pride also stems from the fact that he has undertaken this incredible project in a serious and determined way -- with high production values, professional publicity, and sell-out gigs. All while holding down a full-time job in New York's financial sector.

(Sam, looking all angst-y in his publicity photo)

As for the album itself, I would describe it as alternative pop-rock, inspired by everything from Tom Petty to Wilco. The album was inspired by the experiences Sam and his wife, Erica, had dealing with her chronic pain, including two unsuccessful surgeries and a stint at The Mayo Clinic's pain management center. The experiences were not good, hence the song Dirty White Coats, about the arrogance of unfeeling doctors, or The Mayo Clinic, about, um, The Mayo Clinic.

I'm not a music reviewer -- I'm not good at creating a verbal explanation of music, which to me is more of a visceral experience than something than I can intellectualize or describe in a way that feels accurate. I'm also an amateur musician and a singer, and I experience music in my gut. I like a strong beat, bluesy riffs, strong melodies, and that ever-elusive hook. And I like interesting musical arrangements -- instrumental choices that are surprising, harmonies that dig into my brain with their unexpected perfection, themes or phrases (musical or lyrical) that work their way into my psyche and don't let go.

Pain is a Reliable Signal has all of that. One of my favorites is If You See Something, taken from an MTA anti-terrorism slogan seen around New York's subways and buses. The song has an undeniably hook-y chorus, and in a touch of irony, belying its lamenting of the promotion of an almost Big Brother-esque suspicion of one's fellow man, throws in a cheerful mandolin intro and then later introduces trumpets and exuberant harmonies and back-up vocals that remind me of The Beatles' Ob-la-di Ob-la-da. I can't stop humming it. And I never cease to marvel at how beautifully the song is arranged.

Another one that I can't get out of my head is a ballad called Hold My Heartache. It's harmonies are beautiful and aching. Same with Broken Bow. And Dirty White Coats is deceptively simple -- just a couple of chords -- but it's message is haunting. (Sam explains it much better than I could).

Basically, the entire album is excellent -- high production values, beautiful arrangements, and a cohesive theme. It's melancholy but not maudlin. As one reviewer remarked, it's "part folk, part rock, part electronica, all parts bloody brilliant."

I couldn't agree more.

Click here for The Flying Change website, where you can listen to the album, purchase the album, and read Sam's blog about music, the business of music, and the songwriting process (including the songs on Pain is a Reliable Signal).  It is also available on Amazon, Itunes and CD Baby.

Enjoy. I know I do.


  1. Wow! Sam's music is excellent. It's very much like what I typically listen to, so it's easy for me to enjoy it, but knowing that he's your younger brother makes it just that much more special.

    Or maybe it's because he's Zeke's uncle. Either way. I'm digging his music!

  2. I'm so glad you like it! Thanks for giving it a listen. :)

  3. Anonymous3:16 PM

    You guys look like twins!

    Good tunes.


  4. Of course I'm going to check it out, but also, I can totally see your dad in him!

  5. Sam looks alot like my dad -- very similar coloring, eyes, etc. I look a little like my dad, but I look more like my mom.

  6. I can totally see the mix...isn't it weird? I can't wait to see how Elliot is going to look when it all shakes out. In the beginning he looked EXACTLY like Anthony, but now he's starting to look like himself, but still with his features. There's not much of me, I don't think. Once someone said he had my chin. HA!