Dude, Tomas Kalnoky"s a dI
Actually, in most likelihood he"s probably a real nice guy in person and I"m just being a jerk. But I think I do have a point here. Back in 2003, the dude along with the rest of his NJ rag-tag ensemble known as Streetlight Manifesto arguably released one of the best ska albums in years. Everything Goes Numb
was damn good. I used to loathe ska with a passion but hearing this (along with Leftover Crack"s *** World Trade
) changed my perceptions about the genre. Maybe it"s the lightning-fast precision of the horns, the ridiculously bouncy bassline, or Kalnoky"s God-given penchant for writing real great songs, but one thing was for sure I, like many other people, were hungry for another taste of Streetlight.
So when it was announced that the new album was actually gonna be a rendition of the 1998 Catch-22 classic, Keasby Nights
, it was no surprise that more than few eyebrows were raised and a good number of disappointed "What the fuc
ks!?" were uttered. At that point, it seemed fairly convincing that Kalnoky was part of that same cult that abducted and brainwashed George Lucas and Steven Spielberg into thinking that revamping their old films for the modern age with eye-bleeding special effects was a good idea. Same goes for the countless other bands from the 1960s and 1970s that re-produced their classic albums (Iggy & the Stooges, KISS, David Bowie).
But go figure, Streetlight Manifesto just don"t seem like that kind of band. After all, being on Victory Records"a record label dominated by mopey scenester pseudo-wrist cutters (stereotypes aside)"the band"s music seems just"too happy to be on such a label. Plus, Kalnoky has a beard and a cool hat. Most ska guys don"t. And then again maybe it"s just my own bias telling me that there has to be SOMETHING to reassure me that this album won"t be all that worthless.
Of course, if you"re one of those punk-elitist types, the most pressing question about this release is probably as follows: How does this compare to the Catch 22 original. For the most part, this re-recording is actually alot better in aesthetic terms. As it turns out, the production is richer, the vocals are much clearer and the performances (especially by the horn section) is wayyyyy more precise, sharp and just sounds like more effort went into it. As a result, I"ll say this now: I do not want to spend the bulk of my review talking about how the songs compare to the original, but rather how the songs present themselves in their own light (though I will betray this a few times).
The very first track on Keasby Nights
, Dear Sergio
pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the album. Though this track is now in its 3rd incarnation (also done by Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution, Kalnoky"s other other band), "Sergio" still sounds as fresh as ever, and you know it?: It actually does sound pretty good. Maybe this album was worth the 15 dollars spent. The horn shots have the extra flare, the bassline is fuller and bouncier than ever, and the vocals are brilliantly scrappy, but clearer. Sick and Sad
meanwhile features some brilliant distorted guitar that is more fuzzy than muddy. Most importantly songs like Day In, Day Out
with its insanely catchy chorus and horn melodies underscore the incredibly tight and prominent drumming featured on this album, what was hard to establish on the original controlling.
However, most of the songs on Keasby Nights
hold their own without any connection to their past. The title track
is an insanely catchy melange of rhythmic acoustic guitar, upbeat melodies, and brilliant call-and-response vocals, as well as an even catchier sing-along chorus that seems to evoke Don McClean"s "American Pie". This song is definitely one of the highlights on the album. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Giving Up, Giving In
transfixes a folky little guitar melody into a short raging slab of youthful punk angst in a way that sounds new and refreshing, but at the same time, strangely nostalgic of that late-90s pop-punk that sprouted from the final days of grunge. Think Goldfinger and Lagwagon.
On & On & On
meanwhile is another standout track that incorporates some more of those insanely catchy and bouncy ska melodies via brass and puts a melancholy spin on it with bittersweet vocals, gentle acoustic picking in the bride and some brilliant harmonization that gives a fanfare feeling to the song. The song"s last half breaks into a raucous and energetic punk-style thrash-fest, complete with insanely hard and yet tight drumming. The brief instrumental Riding the Fourth Wave
has this cool surf/American-folk sort of vibe going on as the saxes, trombone and trumpet parts take their cue and take a couple of bars each to solo over a light rhythm part in a manner that doesn"t seem very ska-ish at all. The same goes for Walking Away
which incorporates some heavy jazz elements as evident by the muted trumpet, hi-hat tapping, and extremely bassline. The segue into a traditional ska layout is almost seamless. And then in the bridge, the timbre switches up briefly yet again into a military-style rhythm with rollicking drumbeats and upbeat trumpet lines. Such a blend of different styles as documented by these tracks reveals the original pretensions that would later shape Streetlight Manifesto"s sound. Hearing done by the band itself is just brilliant pure and simple.
However, if one criticism that could be said about this album, its that some of the songs just simply do not hold up to the test of time. Like a pair of pants from 1998 they will simply not fit, no matter how hard you tried. Despite the upbeat melodies and sing-along choruses most of the lyrics are overtly-angsty, leaving one to question how much Nirvana Kalnoky was listening to at the time, not that it"s a particularly bad thing but in this day it seems out of place the band"s actual development. Songs like Supernothing
and As the Footsteps Die Out Forever
document these moods in a broad manner. Kristina She Don"t Know I Exist
meanwhile is just plain cheesy and downright youthfully-misguided where its hard to appreciate, especially knowing that the bad itself is a much older and more mature entity nowadays.
Despite these setbacks, the final track on the album 1234 1234
, is the icing on the cake. Its brilliant acoustic strumming, Ben E. King-style vocal harmonies and intense punk thrashing make this song the sonic and emotional tour de force of the album. The lyrics are intelligently bittersweet and introspective in a manner that was rarely seen not only now, but also back in 1998. And if you were wondering "why" the band decided to re-record this album, the last couple of minutes is spent answering those question in a bizarre spoken word style with tight drumming, buoyant basslines and squealing feedback in the background; A fitting end to a certainly interesting album.
In this manner, Kalnoky makes it clear that album was not so much a financial endeavor designed to rip fans of cash as many have speculated, but more a form of personal catharsis in which the band merely "wanted to get it right for once." The production sounds great, the performances are way better and the overall sonic presentation sounds more coherent. However, it is still the same songs, but as the bare cover art suggests, this album was intended to be reheard and rediscovered in the matter that Kalnoky originally wanted and not merely resold with shiny new art and multimedia extras.
Perhaps it is best stated by Kalnoky at the end of the album "we"re going to keep doing what we do whether or not a single record is sold." Amen, "cause either way it sounds damn good.
Day In, Day Out
On & On & On