Hold on to your seats, we're getting another album of Streetlight Manifesto covers.
Streetlight Lullabies features 10 acoustic Streetlight Manifesto and Catch 22 songs performed by frontman Tomas Kalnoky, under the pseudonym Toh Kay. Frontmen taking an aside from their full band to release stripped down versions of their songs is no longer a rare phenomenon; the Revival Tour is definite proof that less can be more. Those projects tend to field from the gruff, more straightforward side of punk rock. Does the formula still work when applied to a ska punk act?
Whereas most Streetlight songs rarely play at less than a cacophonous din, Toh Kay has given his songs an indie-folk makeover. Many “solo” albums contain a wide variety of instrumentation that surpasses the accompaniment of the original songs, but Streetlight Lullabies is just Kalnoky and an acoustic guitar. Thankfully, his liberal use of fingerpicking gives the songs a unique texture and energy that fills the void left by the brass section of his band. In fact, if you haven't heard the originals, you'd never know they were originally composed as ska punk songs. It speaks to the quality of the source material that they can be reimagined in a different style without sounding like anything is missing. The quieter music complements the lyrics; the somber verses about death and meaning seem better suited quietly sung to an acoustic backdrop than screamed over a half dozen other musicians.
There are a couple missteps. The song “Dear Sergio” makes its incredulous fourth recorded appearance, and (counting side project Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution's performance of the song) second acoustic version. Calling it superfluous is an understatement. The other Catch 22 song, “Sick and Sad,” just gets it wrong. With cringe-worthy lyrics and running too long at three minutes, the 1998 track shows its age and should have been replaced by one of the stronger tracks from the vault. The remaining eight songs come from Streetlight Manifesto's catalogue, and fare much better.
The tricky part comes in who to recommend this album to. Fans of Kalnoky's bands are familiar with all these songs, having heard them in multiple iterations before. The songs, especially from the Streetlight Manifesto era, have been imbued with a new life that may win new fans from the realm of indie rock. On the other hand, this penchant for rerecording old songs is bordering on farce. Ultimately, Streetlight Lullabies is a good album, but an unnecessary one. Yet when I consider the many bands and their labels that put out questionable re-releases, deluxe editions and remasters less than a year after the original release with little to no content changes, I'm inclined to give Toh Kay a pass. At least until Streetight Lullabies, Volume 2.