Jacob Bicycle – “Half the Way from Shore” EP Review

Goldfine’s vocals are the secret ingredient setting these songs apart. His smooth and soulful croon is versatile enough to carry both an upbeat rock anthem and a soft ballad while never losing his wholly original fragility.

I met Jake Goldfine during my junior year in college at Syracuse. We were neighbors and spent many a PBR-fueled night jamming together in the weary hours after a party, he on his guitar and me on my keyboard. Towards the end of my college career we formalized the partnership under the very regrettable name “Palm Full” (thought we argued about it often, we could never agree on another name to make the much needed change) and debuted a few of our original songs that I contend still hold up.

However, after graduation I moved on to New York City and refocused my creative energy into my writing. Jake, though, moved to Los Angeles where he continued to hone his songwriting and musicianship.

He has come a long damn way.

This month Goldfine released Half the Way from Shore, a three-song EP with guitarist David Mosca under the name Maxwell Edison (the EP is hosted on SoundCloud under Goldfine’s alias Jacob Bicycle). When the two of us had recorded a few of our songs in college, we struggled to translate our living room rock set into a polished recording, but LA-based producer Mike Oliviero has clearly helped Goldfine fine tune his production skills. These songs come to life with all the intricacies,  instrumental Easter eggs, and sonic consistency of a thoroughly thought out, professional record.

But Half the Way from Shore is mostly a testament to Goldfine’s strengthening songwriting and sharp pop sensibility. An east coast lifer adrift in Los Angeles at the time of the EP’s recording, the songs appropriately play like melancholy, New York City songer-songwriter fare trapped inside California pop-rock shimmer. His soulful ballads of heartbreak and love-beyond-grasp often slip into pop punk breakdowns and harmony-filled interludes.

The EP begins with “Heart’s Web,” a ready-for-radio (perhaps even too polished?) anthem about the inherent risks of falling in love. The pretty pop track track is slickly constructed over an Alt-J-reminiscent indie R&B beat. The second track, “Poets,” shows off Goldfine’s tender lyrics -“the words allude me like a million flies circling ’round a light” – and becomes a cleverly self-aware reflection on the cliche repetitiveness of guitar-strapped singers and their lovesick ballads. That the song drifts into a wordless, sweepingly melodic chorus seems to suggest that some sparks are too joyous and profound to be captured in a simple, lyrical verse.

Both songs show promise, but “From When I Took a Walk,” the third and final track, is the real gem of the EP. The song perfectly marries the songwriting prowess evident in “Poets” with Goldfine’s penchant for go-for-broke hooks (“Heart’s Web”). It is also the best showcase for Goldfine’s vocals, the secret ingredient setting the EP apart. His smooth and soulful croon is versatile enough to carry both an upbeat rock song and a soft ballad while never losing his wholly original fragility – part Death Cab with a slight reggae overtones.

It can be hard to be objective about a friend’s work, but it is easy to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed these songs and was drawn to listen to them over and over again. They work perfectly as sweetly digestable pop, but also capture an artist who may not yet have fully crystallized the complex sound he wants to put into the world, but is well on his way (and leaps and bounds ahead of where he was back when we played together).