By Patrick Foster
"Songcraft" conjures visions of wizened warblers like Leonard Cohen polishing and re-polishing a turn of phrase, a chord change, until a song hums with perfect alchemy.
There's songcraft in the world of shiny, disposable pop music, too, though. Case in point: "Everything Under the Sun," the second album from Jukebox the Ghost, which is so dominated by the Philly-via-D.C. (George Washington University, specifically) trio's craftsmanship that only a few actual songs manage to escape.
The 41-minute album is snappy and lively and melodic (and occasionally contemplative), drawing shrewdly on a well of contemporary pop influences from Tokyo Police Club to Rufus Wainwright to Barenaked Ladies. Yet that very shrewdness -- the piano riffs of "Mistletoe" are so well played and bright! "Half Crazy" struts on tightly constructed guitar riffs and tasteful synthesizer accents! The drummer keeps everything on track so smartly! -- keeps nearly everything here from connecting on a deeper emotional level.
As with Jukebox the Ghost's debut, the record is dominated by the piano of Ben Thornewill, who penned seven of the 12 tunes. Guitarist Tommy Siegel contributed the remainder, but other than the latter's slightly tougher vocal style, songs like "Carrying," "The Sun" and "Empire" are of a piece -- bright, jumpy, finely crafted and too lightweight to make a lasting impression. That's not the case with "So Let Us Create," the album's most striking tune. Its ascending/descending melody exposes a tactile edge that feels like an actual glimpse into the heart of its creators. And it's a tactile heart that Jukebox the Ghost seems to have left behind in its pursuit of pop songcraft.
Recommended tracks: "So Let Us Create," "Half Crazy," "Mistletoe"