Itinerant art-pop trio Jukebox The Ghost—which has been based in D.C., Philadelphia, and now New York—is one of those bands so full of ideas and hooks that at times they come off as a little too eager to impress. The band’s two songwriters are pianist Ben Thornewill and guitarist Tommy Siegel, who sound equally inspired by Ben Folds, Fountains Of Wayne and Queen. On the first two Jukebox The Ghost albums, this resulted in songs loaded with complex harmonies and dense lyrics, often at the expense of clarity. But just when Thornewill, Siegel and drummer Jesse Kristin seem too mired in mini-suites, they come across with a song as perfect as “Somebody,” the fiendishly catchy track that opens the band’s third album Safe Travels. From its faintly world beat rhythms to its sticky chorus and multiple soaring bridges, “Somebody” is the kind of feel-good single that deserves to dominate the radio all summer. It justifies all of Jukebox The Ghost’s past overcranked diddling.
On the whole, Safe Travels is a more direct album than what the band has done before. The ’70s-style disco strings of “At Last,” the childlike sing-song and wiggly synth break of “Say When,” and the urgently anthemic overtures of “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind” are all meant to move people, either by cheering them up or by sympathizing with their troubles. Much of the music on Safe Travels is peppy and bright, but the subject matter of songs like “Dead,” “Adulthood” and “Ghosts In Empty Houses” is fairly serious, dealing with losses big and small. While Safe Travels still gets overly busy and bombastic at times, and while Thornewill’s and Siegel’s songwriting can still come across as overbearing, the potential is always there: Not just for another unbeatable winner like “Somebody,” but for little beams of light to come breaking through the clouds, illuminating the clutter.