Monday, September 27, 2010

Album Review: Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between

Streetlight Manifesto: Somewhere in the Between
[Victory 2007]


In 1007, original material had been a long four years in the making for Streetlight Manifesto, who have arisen to become one of the preeminent ska punk bands today. While the 90’s had the original Keasbey Nights, a landmark recording by Tomas Kalnoky’s old outfit Catch 22 in that decade’s third-wave ska boom, the 2000’s brings us Somewhere in the Between, Streetlight’s best work yet and a new pinnacle in this decade’s ska scene. This record is exciting, smart, aggressive, and fun. There are good things to be said about pretty much every aspect of this album and altogether, Somewhere in the Between is brilliant.

First and foremost, as is critical to the reputation of a ska band, is the instrumentation, especially in the horns department. Like in their 2003 debut Everything Goes Numb but perhaps even more so, Somewhere in the Between is sonically pristine and very polished. The great saxophone work, especially, contrast nicely with the hard and angry guitar, like on the album’s opener “We Will Fall Together.”

Elsewhere, Kalnoky brings the pace of action down to delicate melodies complemented beautifully with electric guitar plucking and occasionally soft backing vocals. Speaking of backing vocals, they play a huge role in this album, as they always have in Streetlight’s music, increasing the force and energy of each chorus, which has been one of the band’s best qualities.

While thematically darker than it’s predecessor, Somewhere in the Between continues in the style of Streetlight’s knack for peril-minded melodies in that the songs are often musically of an epic quality, which are supported completely by Kalnoky’s excellent lyrical work. The album does, however, have plenty of light moments, like on the extremely catchy “Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s CafĂ©” and “The Blonde Lead the Blind,” which sounds the most like fellow kings of ska Reel Big Fish. The big divergence here, however, is that while RBF thrives on sarcasm and self-deprecating humor to launch into commentaries of adolescent life, Streetlight Manifesto seem to take themselves quite seriously, but with Kalnoky’s lyrics to support, the album feels smart and sophisticated while still being fun.

Despite the dark themes, the message delivered by the dynamic lyricist and leadman Tomas Kalnoky is thought provoking and inspiring. Kalnoky’s ear for catchy, satisfying rhymes extends to the larger scale of emotionally abrasive yet inquisitive narratives and snippets from life. Somewhere in the Between sounds like a commentary on mankind’s battles between good and evil and heaven and hell. We are, as the title suggests, in the middle of this eternal struggle. This idea also seems to be reflected in the album’s stylish cover art.

It is hard to find many flaws in this album, let alone any glaring ones. The final two tracks, while being strong and passable respectively, seem to step on each other’s toes in similarity. What is perhaps most disappointing however, is the length. Given the time Streetlight has had to record it, one would hope that for their sophomoric release they could muster up more than 10 songs over 44 minutes, which is about 10 minutes shorter than Everything Goes Numb. At least, however, they have put quality over quantity.

For Streetlight fans, they can rest assured that Somewhere in the Between does not break from the formula that produced their critically hailed debut from 2003, and it in fact exceeds that effort. New listeners to Streetlight Manifesto and even to ska itself will find much to enjoy hear as well, as the album’s plethora of catchy hooks and infectious energy make it the band’s most broadly appealing release yet.

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