Pop does not have to be the cookie-cutter mainstream bubblegum that we generally imagine when we think of this genre. Jukebox the Ghost is the perfect example of beautifully mixing the artistic expression and emotion of indie-rock with the catchy hooks and feel-good beats of pop music.
This Brooklyn trio is no group of novices when it comes to making exceptional piano-driven pop. Having previously released two full-length albums, played with the likes of Ben Folds, the Barenaked Ladies and Jack’s Mannequin, and performed on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” Ben Thornewill (piano/vox), Tommy Siegel (guitar/vox), and Jesse Kristin (percussion) have come a long way since meeting in 2003.
Over the years, Jukebox the Ghost has created a loyal fan base of listeners who love the upbeat and eclectic art-pop that we have come to expect from them. With their third and latest album, Safe Travels, they certainly do not disappoint.
Admittedly, this album took a few listens for me to wrap my head around it. Individually, each song sounds great – mostly poppy, a few heartfelt and slow, all very enjoyable. But together, I couldn’t tell if I was hearing an artfully put-together, coherent album, or if I was just hearing a mixed up jumble of songs. After a couple casual listens, it seemed a bit as if the band was all over the place. Then I took a seat and really listened.
The first two tracks on the album, “Somebody” and “Oh, Emily,” were the first and second singles from the album, respectively. Upon first listen, it is immediately clear why; both tracks are very reminiscent of the poppy likability seen in Everything Under the Sun. Furthermore, “Somebody” utilizes Thornewill’s vocals up front with Siegel’s taking over on “Oh, Emily.” The switching of the vocalists nicely gives the members an equal share of the spotlight, unifying them as a whole band. Having said that, this may also be a cause for the initial feeling of disjointedness.
We are reminded of the power behind the piano-backed vocals of Thornewill with the melodic “At Last,” and “Say When” is one of the many poppy romps on the album. “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind” has a bit more power, and then we are thrown for a loop with the mellow intro of “Dead.” This track is much softer and introspective, with lyrics like “And if you’re dead/ how do you know if you are really dead/ or stuck in a dull dream about nothing that never ends?”
Overall, Safe Travels is a great pop album, perfect for that summer sun (with the exception of “Dead” and the dreary piano ballad “Devils On Our Side”). While it does take several listens to truly get a good feel for this album, it tells a very personal story that accounts for the ups and downs. The band has finally opened up in a very real way, and this album is definitely a beautiful step forward for them.