Streetlight Manifesto hasn’t had any easy breaks. Ever since frontman Tomas Kalnoky ditched New Jersey ska legends, Catch 22, after single-handedly writing their most well-known record (1998’s Keasbey Nights), he’s a had his work cut out for him. Kalnoky released Streetlight’s first record in 2003 and it became a huge indie success. The years that followed though, were filled with a string of robberies, some big lineup changes, and continued feuding with Kalnoky’s old band, and all the while dealing with a wave of fans asking “Where’s the new album?!” After last year’s ill-advised re-recording of Kalnoky’s landmark Catch 22 record, Streetlight Manifesto has finally emerged with their first set of new material in four years, and it’s been worth it for the ten songs that grace this album.
The record opens with the soaring intro to “We Will Fall Together,” which acts as a reintroduction to the band altogether, and throughout the rest of the song, Streetlight leaves us with all of the hallmarks of the band’s first album: classically influenced horns, furious upstrokes, stop-on-a-dime tempo changes, interweaving gang vocals, and of course, a totally awesome breakdown. There’s no shortage of these things on the rest of the record either, the two tracks to appear on a virtual sampler earlier this month, “Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Café” and “Watch it Crash” both rise and fall with Kalnoky’s suburban crime narratives just like the best songs from 2003’s Everything Goes Numb.
What’s really great about Somewhere in the Between though, is what’s different, even though at first listen, nothing really seems like it’s changed. “One Foot on the Gas, One Foot in the Grave” shows off a strong Caribbean influence, and the Spanish tinges to “Would You Be Impressed?” add a new dimension to what would be a standard ska tune. Another improvement the band has made is a newfound ability to cut out the fat. Somewhere in the Between runs a full 2 songs and 10 minutes shorter than its predecessor, and somehow grows into an altogether “bigger” album. Ambitious oversights like Everything Goes Numb’s “A Moment of Silence”/”A Moment of Violence” (which worked in theory, but not really in execution) are exempt from Somewhere in the Between.
Not every track is a standout though, as songs like “Forty Days” and “The Blonde Leading the Blind” blur together somewhat, being a little less than memorable. Occasionally, Kalnoky nods a little too much towards his earlier work, which seems less referential and more contrived than anything else. And like any ska record, it has a feeling of, “If you like one song, you’ll like them all.” If ska isn’t your bag, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sit through 45 minutes of what is essentially super-hyperactive reggae.
With the record acting as the final chapter of Kalnoky’s Keasbey Diaries, it contains the same lyrical themes of suicide, robbery, and kids living outside of society’s values, which are part of what makes his records so compelling. Lines like “and I knew you when you were you, before they twisted all your views, before you came unglued,” are poignant, and just fun as hell to sing along with, and that’s what this record is, more than anything: fun. Streetlight Manifesto has grown exponentially in the last 4 years, and if we have to wait jut as long for another full-length that shows as much growth as this one, it’ll be well worth it.