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Photo: Andrew Ballantyne / Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends

Chicago’s the Safes Deepen Sounds and Emotions on ‘Winning Combination’ (album stream)

The Safes gather extended family for a gorgeous chamber pop album that stands as the group's finest hour to date. Full of surprise and sorrow, Winning Combination is the perfect Safes album.

Time was if you listened to Chicago’s the Safes you were hearing a rockin’ three-piece combo that would tear your head clean off with their uncompromising punk riffs. The group has lost none of their intensity on Winning Combination, their latest LP, due 7 September, but it has grown more sophisticated and nuanced with this collection. Purchase vinyl on Bandcamp here or here, while CDs can be purchased on Bandcamp and digital on iTunes.

Swelling to 19 players for the ride, the O’Malley brothers (Sean, Frankie, Michael, and Patrick) are joined by nieces and nephews for a collection of chamber pop masterpieces that more often recall the Zombies, the Kinks, the Beach Boys, and the Beatles rather than the Clash or the Jam.

What remains intact is the tendency to forge taut, impactful tunes that immediately worm their way into the listener’s psyche. “Baggage Claim” wouldn’t have been out of place in the early Who discography with its gorgeous rhythm guitars and remarkable melodic turns. “Open Your Eyes” gives a nod to Old World sensibilities in the way that McCartney often did in the latter-day Beatles. There’s something brand-new and deeply familiar at work in its structure. Hasn’t this song always been here?

Those sensibilities continue into the painfully perfect “Dreams That Ignite”, the dreamlike “The Shell Spell”, and the would-be AM radio staple, “Ship Sinking Grin”.

The proof is all there in the grooves, though, waiting to be discovered. The accolade, “Best album to date” rarely means much but here, it’s most apt. The O’Malley family has outdone itself here, giving us a most unexpected treasure that speaks volumes about their musical and emotional connections to each other and their audience.


01. It’s True
02. On Top
03. Open Your Eyes
04. Baggage Claim
05. The Rest of My Life
06. Dreams That Ignite
07. Make or Break
08. The Shell Spell
09. Ship Sinking Grin
10. Simplicity


09-17 – The Spirit – Pittsburgh, PA
09/18 – Chronic Town – State College, PA
09/19 – Barbary – Philadelphia, PA
09/20 – Slash Run – Washington, DC
09/21 – Hampdenfest – Baltimore, MD
09/21 – Quinns – Beacon, NY
09/22 – Cafe Nine – New Haven, CT
09/23 – Pianos – New York City, NY
09/24 – Lizard Lounge – Cambridge, MA
09/25 – Asbury Park Hotel – Asbury Park, NJ
09/26 – Cult Classic Brewery – Kent Island, MD
09/27 – The Summit – Columbus, OH
09/28 – Buzzbin – Canton, OH
10/11 – Circle A – Milwaukee, WI
10/12 – PABS – Stevens Point, WI
10/25 – Mickeys – Madison, WI
10/26 – Eagles 34 – Minneapolis, MN
11/02 – The Ruin – Ft. Wayne, IN
11/09 – Wayout Club – St. Louis, MO
11/16 – Lyric Room – Green Bay, WI
11/22 – WLUW on The Razor and Die show – Chicago, IL
11/23 – The Comet – Cincinnati, OH
11/27 – Beat Kitchen – Chicago, IL