What happens when the neon and graffiti decorated jukebox in the corner of the bar dies and is put out on the curb? What happens to the essence of the sweeping collection of singles that span years and genres? We should be led to believe that they coalesce to form a richly colored personality. We should be led to believe that they form something akin to Jukebox The Ghost.
The three-piece’s third album, entitled “Safe Travels,” is an ambitious record spanning thirteen tracks of vibrant tapestry, weaving together piano driven indie-pop with accents of Gospel and Soul. The charm of the album is in how effortlessly they’re able to blend together the pop sensibility of an Elton John with the wry wit and storytelling of an artist like Ben Folds. However, there is one gleaming flaw within the album: muddled pacing brought upon by poor track order. The error is most noticeable in the last three songs; where “Man in the Moon” provides closure to the album, which causes “Everybody Knows” and “Spiritual” to feel a bit out of place, as well as unnecessary. While this does detract from the album as a whole, it’s not too grievous of slight as Ben Thornewill and Tommy Siegel have crafted some wonderfully delectable indie-pop.
“At Last,” one of the standout tracks, is a Ben Folds-esque vignette about a songwriter attempting to connect with the ghostwriter that he was in love with. “He was a fearful boy, watchful of the earth/worried that it might split apart and he wouldn’t even hear it first/that he’d be caught in some position like a broken old physician/and worst of all he feared that it would hurt…Seven hundred letters, she catalogued them all/dated them and numbered them and then hid them down below/she would always keep ‘em, once a year would read them/each time she’d be thinkin’, ‘somehow he must know!’” Musically, the track opens with a climbing piano line that keeps dropping down and starting again; building tension and anxiety that these two individuals must feel. Soon after both characters are introduced, Thornewill’s piano unfolds and unwinds, colored by bright percussion and strings.
“Ghosts in Empty Houses” showcases the band’s talent as both musicians and songwriters. The bright, dancing instrumentation that pervades the song belies the melancholy subject matter of loneliness, isolation and depression. “There are twelve million spirits drifting/through twelve million empty rooms/waving their ghostly arms at the stars/and howling sad songs in the light of a crescent moon…don’t you think it’s funny how quickly things can turn around?/all our lives we’re drifting like ghosts inside an empty house/everything is falling to pieces and it’s just as well/because every little piece of heaven brings a little piece of hell.”
The shortest track on the album, entitled “Man in the Moon,” could be considered a pop-soliloquy. The narrator speaks of a recently lost love that he still possesses strong feelings toward. “Oh you/such a funny girl but oh so blue/and what are you supposed to do/when I can’t be there with you?/I’m the man in the moon,/I’m far away and can’t be true/and I could say the same for you/and why on earth would you…” The track is colored by Siegel’s tender, soft vocals and gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment.
Sound Quality: It’s obvious that Yep Roc Records had thought about the vinyl sound quality of Safe Travels as the album has been divided up into two, 12-inch 45s. The extra space allows the music to breath and to expand out into the room. The instrumentation is bright, colorful (dance-y even) and while it never takes on a live quality, it does possess a bombastic excitable energy. Siegel and Thornewill’s vocals are crisp and clear.
Packaging: Despite being a double LP, the album only comes packaged in an extra large jacket to accommodate the record’s size. I was a little disappointed in their decision to opt out of the gatefold jacket. Anyways, the jacket is decorated in colorful paint splotches and smears. The two album sleeves are the standard, plain white with wax covering the center. The linear notes are printed on both sides of a glossy sheet.
Extras: The record includes a digital download code for the album.
Summary: Safe Travels is an ambitious album, comprised of dance-y piano driven indie-pop, but finally marred by its muddled ending. However, the narratives accompanied by a blissful, dreamy atmosphere that Siegel and Thornewill have woven makes the album worth experiencing again and again.
Make Sure to Spin: “At Last,” “Ghosts in Empty Houses” and “Devils On Our Side”