There’s a process one goes through when eagerly anticipating the release of an album. Like a less dire five stages of grief, there’s the initial impact the album’s announcement makes, followed by the excruciating wait, which turns into that euphoric high just days before the album hits stores, and then it all reaches critical mass once you get the album in your grubby mitts. But that last step is the most crucial, the point at which you hear it all for yourself and weeks or months of waiting will be worth it or not. Jukebox the Ghost‘s Everything Under the Sun is that happy ending, the highest of highs you expected from moment one of that all-too-often musical journey we as consumers endure.
Even at its most underwhelming, the album is full of wondrous pop gems. “The Popular Thing” should make Hall and Oates want to eat their stupid, mustached heart(s) out. Hand claps, falsetto vocal delivery, baroque-period piano, a bluesy/jam rock breakdown, and the simplest lyrics ever create one of the most fundamentally basic yet complex tracks the band has ever done. Of course, no great album should be without artistic development. “Carrying” features some of the best harmonies they’ve ever had; the voices of pianist/vocalist Ben Thornewill and guitarist/vocalist Tommy Siegel are so similar that they blend magically to offer up a blast of pop goodness and yet are so different as to create a rich layering effect. The LP’s saturated with loads of super joyous synths, particularly in “Half Crazy”. For a band known for really bright, bubbly music, this manic track full of bleeps and bloops has the drive of a rock song and the energy of a righteous case of ADHD, pushing their unique brand of power pop into overdrive while amping up the lyrical sophistication, adding a new layer of subtext and creating a worldview that never loses that childlike innocence of being in love while demonstrating a level of organic maturation.
At its most powerful, the album is a unified reach for the outer edges of pop music. “Summer Sun” shines with a melancholy guitar-piano synergy, an ocean of bells, and tight-as-ever drumming by Jesse Kristin that raise this track on high. It’s big and sweeping and epic, with the fury of a great prog rock classic, yet still sweet and intimate. It has this wonderful dedication to absolute simplicity for most of the song and chillingly sweet vocals by Thornewill, as the band learns the power they have with even the most simple of words and sounds. “The Sun” is a game changer for the band. Siegel is weaker vocally, but he makes a successful grab for the grandiose notes his bandmate is known for. The track is reminiscent of an expansive Violent Femmes number, particularly the jerky instrumentation and the “Everything under the sun” lyrics. It’s a great deal of fun and way more weird (and slightly darker) than some of their other stuff.
Things are whipped into true majesty in “The Sun (Interlude)”, a prog rock demonstration that leads perfectly into “The Stars”, which takes that kind of technical prowess and wraps it in a shiny coat of neurotic pop (with an amazing chorus) that eats up more air space than any Rush song ever could. It has some innovative drumming that’s heightened by loads of synth and a killer piano part. Together, though, these tracks make it very clear that the band has taken its musical evolution seriously. This is a group of skilled and dedicated musicians with an ear for larger than life sounds, built up like slabs of musical concrete to create a brilliant skyscraper of shimmery noise with lots of details.
More than just a sigh of relief after a long wait, the album sees the trio grow as a unit and as individual musical entities. Rare is the effort that can truly live up to expectations. But for a fury of intelligent, emotional, and insightful pop music with hooks and catchiness to spare, Everything Under the Sun would have been deserving of more than a mere two-plus years wait.