Streetlight Manifesto – “Somewhere in the Between”
This album has been a long time coming. Streetlight Manifesto is known for its perfectionism, which explains why this 10-track disk took four years to make. While a bit on the short side, it’s one of the best albums ever made, certainly the best that ska fans have heard in years.
Ska bands are known to be generic; 90 percent of them sound almost identical, with offbeat guitar parts (similar to those of reggae), fast tempos, and horn sections with short interjections.
Streetlight Manifesto transcends this mold with a rare combination of ska/punk and Eastern European genres like nothing listeners have heard before. The only features that tie this band to the ska scene are its fan base and horn section. Featuring Matt Stewart on trumpet, Mike Soprano on trombone, and Jim Conti on alto and tenor saxophone, the group is one of the best ever assembled in a non-jazz environment. And these guys can play; the horns are the driving force.
Much of the credit also belongs to Tomas Kalnoky, the madman at the controls of this musical freight train. He writes the lyrics and composes the majority of the instrumentation on an acoustic guitar at odd hours of the night. As Kalnoky has said in album liner notes and interviews, he writes a chord progression on the guitar and hums a melody, which he then gives to the horn section to flesh out. While this may seem like a strange way to write music, it certainly is effective. There is never a dull moment on this album.
I have noticed that the average musician struggles with the art of transition. When changing tempo, key, or dynamic (or all three at once), most musicians tend to run astray. This is not the case with Streetlight Manifesto. Their tightness can be attributed to the band’s four years of touring. On “Somewhere in the Between,” every transition is executed perfectly. In fact, most listeners barely notice the changes. Even more impressive, their transitions are just as perfect live, a feat that few bands can boast.
While every track is strong, the highlights are “Would You Be Impressed?” and “What a Wicked Gang Are We.” The hypnotic breakdown in the former keeps the listener entranced as the tension builds from barely audible guitar riffs and quiet vocals to wailing horn lines and screaming vocals that declare, “I looked around, I stood alone, I knew what I had to say, I said it’s all my fault!” In the other song, the contemplative lyrics inspired by Shakespeare and soulful melodies of the horn section draw the album to a beautiful conclusion, leaving listeners wanting more.
This is one of the most talented groups out there. It is nearly impossible to find a weakness in this album. It is the modern equivalent of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” a masterpiece filled with subtle intricacies that become more apparent with each listen.
The best word to describe this music is “intense.” It is by no means easy listening, and it may seem loud and annoying at first, but I promise, once you get into Streetlight Manifesto, you will never get out.