Amid the sea of so-called “culturally vaunted” albums and artists from the genre clumsily labeled “indie,” a refreshing new sound has hit the market. The Washington, D.C.-born trio Jukebox the Ghost is a quirky delight for fans of alternative music.
Various New Age and classical styles meet head-on in this group’s repertoire. The members have a refined musical sound and play skillfully. Their powerful piano, driving guitar riffs and deft percussion create a sound one would expect from a five-person band, all done without a bassist. The band’s inventive yet profoundly simple melodies are in a constant state of flux during each song.
Jukebox the Ghost’s debut album, Let Live and Let Ghosts, will be released April 22. The album is a varied 12-song showcase of the band’s talents and influences. Jazz, New Age, ’50s rock ‘n’ roll and alternative genres are all present in its songs, making it almost impossible to pinpoint a central style for the band.
Style variation is consistent with Ben Thornewill’s refined voice, which has such range that it almost seems like another instrument. He sings with great tone and control while changing inflections and emphasis to mirror the melodies in each song. Sometimes he sounds like Freddy Mercury and other times he sounds like Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse. This is particularly evident in the first two songs on the album, “Good Day” and “Hold It In.” Thorniwell plays keyboard and piano, in which he is classically trained, in addition to singing lead.
From the start, Let Live and Let Ghosts evokes a happy mood from the listener with bouncy, lighthearted songs and quirky lyrics. “Under My Skin” and “Victoria” are two examples of this style. They have a sound like that of Hot Hot Heat’s first two albums, but with swankier rock ‘n’ roll parts mixed in. This does not last long, however.
To the detriment of the album, a few slower, more ballad-like songs, such as “My Heart’s the Same,” “Static” and “Miss Templeton’s 7,000th Dream,” are haphazardly thrown in. “Static” is apparently meant to be a sort of social commentary, especially when depicting a crowd burning draft cards, which provides an anti-establishment undertone. Though the commentary is a respectable expression, the album lacks flow and focus, so it is probable that the group’s statements will be less effective and overlooked by most.
What should not be overlooked is the album’s crown jewel, called “Beady Eyes on the Horizon.” This song is probably the band’s most dense lyrically and most uniform musically. The rhythm doesn’t change much, but that emphasizes the lyrics. The song is a story told through metaphor that alludes to different aspects of society. Among them are the American oil plight and people’s general mistrust of the unfamiliar. The antagonists are a group of “strangers” in the subway “swapping photos of cans of gasoline” and a giant pair of beady eyes inside a hurricane. This could possibly be an allusion to a Big Brother figure watching over all. The song is filled with metaphors that are cleverly appropriate, with noticeable autobiographical comments thrown in as well.
Overall, Let Live and Let Ghosts is a great start for Jukebox the Ghost. It is an eclectic mix of genres and allows the band members to express themselves. For a debut album, it is solid. Apart from the structure of the album – more specifically, the order of the songs – it leaves little to be desired. Jukebox the Ghost is currently touring on Let Live and Let Ghosts and will be at the Orpheum on April 8. For tour dates and music samples, go to jukeboxtheghost.com.