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Streetlight Manifesto‘s debut album Everything Goes Numb, put simply, is a ska masterpiece. This New Jersey based ska leviathan is headed by Tomas Kalnoky (singer, guitarist) and was formed when he and a few other band members split from their former ska-punk band, Catch 22. Streetlight Manifesto’s sound is highly authentic, unrivaled by any other ska band you will come across (as of this writing), and the band’s sound naturally has a tremendous amount of depth to it.
Imagine the complicated dynamics of an orchestral piece, the speed and fury of punk rock, and some really sophisticated-yet-catchy horn lines, put that all together in just the right way and you’ll get Everything Goes Numb. The album opens with the title track, Everything Went Numb which starts with the lyrics “And the story goes like this: Everything went numb for the money and the guns…” After a line like that you have to admit the song must be killer. And surely, it is just that, a great kick-off song to start the album. I have always said it, and I will say it again: Everything Went Numb is the song that got me hooked on ska.
The album consists of 12 tracks and spans a total of 55 minutes from beginning to end, which is long for a punk/ska band but no complaints here as every minute is enjoyable. I have easily heard this album in its entirety several hundred times and have almost never skipped over a track (except, of course, for those rare occasions when I am song surfing or showing off select tracks to others).
This album’s sound goes so much farther than the typical ska band release, it’s almost scary how well put together everything is. Streetlight is very good at utilizing its horn section to its fullest potential and knows exactly how to use them. They are definitely not a band like Reel Big Fish, or Big D and the Kid’s Table (no disrespect to them at all, whatsoever) which often give the impression that they throw in horns just because they have them and feel they should be put to use. Usually the routine involves something like, play verse horn-line, play chorus horn-line, rinse and repeat with the occasional horn solo/bridge. Although sometimes this cookie-cutter strategy works well, the majority of the time its just not good enough and you are left with a track that feels synthetic and sounds like the band is trying too hard. I can’t blame them though, as trying to get something that always works with horns thrown on top of a standard punk/rock setup is pretty darn hard, so props to them for doing what they do. Anyways, as a huge ska fan I have noticed that most ska songs aren’t anything to write home about so-to-speak. That is until, I put on Everything Goes Numb.
In Everything Goes Numb Streetlight doesn’t quite conform to the rut that most ska albums get stuck into, including Kalnoky’s old band, Catch 22’s “Keasbey Nights” in which they followed the same basic strategy but ended up creating great songs, a rare exception. Instead, Streetlight adds a couple twists to the formula that I will go into; but before I delve deeper I must announce that the following is entirely based on my own speculation and how I personally view the music. Also keep in mind I’m no professional music critic, so please take this with a grain of salt.
Where were we? Oh, right, the “formula”. I have noticed that most of the time Streetlight comes back to a repetitive verse or chorus they change up something a tiny bit every repetition, for instance, it could be a subtle change in the bass-line or a loud blaring horn accent which stands out prominently from the norm. In addition, the band adds a very orchestral style to their works by changing up the dynamics of the song, sometimes radically but all-the-while keeping everything flowing smoothly. For instance, sometimes they will speed-up/slow-down the song, get softer/louder, and sometimes they even completely stop for a moment and start right back up again. But the biggest contributor to this powerful orchestral-like sound they present are the horns. I have no idea how they do it, but the horn-lines have a lot more to them than the average ska band. Kalnoky composes almost everything in this album, including the horn-lines (he hums them), and the horn players add their own touch by adding their own little fills and bits of pizazz wherever they see fit. The result is a piece of work that is really deep, or reaches a new dimension, so-to-speak, which words simply can’t describe, so I won’t even try. What I will say is that even now, after a couple hundred listens through (no joke), there are times in which I discover something new in the music that I hadn’t ever noticed before. Yes, its just that intricate.
I have been boasting about the horns, but don’t forget the other guys, they are another story. Anyone who closely pays attention to the bass is in for a treat for sure. The bassist really has a ton of skill and is not afraid to use it. He lays down some really smooth grooves and has a jazzy sort of style. His lines are really intricate and often get real tricksy (yes tricksy- Hey I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, lay off will ya?). Drum fans are in for a treat as well. The drummer is nothing short of extraordinary and provides for a real nice listen. On some songs, if you were to only listen to the drum track it would almost sound like the drummer was constantly soloing. I say this because he lays down fast killer drum fills almost every chance he gets. But don’t let that throw you off because it fits amazingly well contrary to what it seems. Kalnoky’s guitar work never fails to fit in nicely either. But if you are a fan of some crazy guitar riffs and blazingly fast death-metal solos you may be disappointed, as that is not what Streetlight boasts, it boasts its legendary four-piece horn section and the guitar takes more of the background with the bass. In fact, I would say the drums, horns and singing takes more of the foreground while the guitar and bass are tucked nicely in the background. Don’t worry though, everything is mixed and produced very well and if you are really determined to, and have a good ear, you will be able to single out any of the instruments.
As if all that wasn’t good enough, as you know, the juggernaut is headed by the legendary Thomas Kalnoky of Catch 22! You know, the band that only released one of the greatest ska records of all time, Keasbey Nights. Kalnoky is a great composer and musical genius, that is already established, but what I am getting at is vocals/lyrical talent. The lyrics are extremely deep and thought-provoking and his singing is just as good, if not better. He combines singing and shouting perfectly and is always in key. Bottom line, his singing style is very suited for punk and his voice fits in perfectly with Streetlight’s sound, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. You will find backing gang vocals sprinkled throughout the record which largely consist of “Na-na-na”s and “Woah”s and add a lot to the song. The band is great at conveying mood through their songs and the backing vocals are one of the key ingredients in doing so.
To sum up, this record pushes the definition of punk like never before. It goes beyond the common punk/ska sound and redefines music altogether. The amount of intricacy in their sound breaks barriers and traverses genres and is nothing short of brilliant in my eyes. This is the sort of album that I know no matter how much my musical tastes change, I will continue listening to it for the rest of my life. So if you are looking for a record that challenges your intellect, provokes your deepest thoughts, or simply gets you skanking, Everything Goes Numb will not let you down.