Bitter fans? Check. Keasbey Nights remake? Check. Many fucking touring thefts? Check, check, check. Four-plus years later, we finally have new music from the Tomas Kalnoky's Flying Circus, even though the band knew we were all going to bootleg it.
Pay or nay, right away you notice a change in the brass. Everything Goes Numb, Streetlight Manifesto's long-forgotten 2003 effort, featured Jamie Egan on both trombone and trumpet, and also briefly on tuba. His style ran half the horn section like a majority shareholder, but even if his lips pursed air into two separate mouthpieces, he was still commanded by the frontman, Tomas Kalnoky.
Egan is nowhere to be seen on Somewhere in the Between. In his place are Matt Stewart on trumpet and former Catch 22 temp worker, Mike Soprano on trombone.
Stewart knocks down doors with a sort of snake charmer-esque squeal on the opener, “We Will Fall Together,” that clearly showcases the group’s expanding influences, even without reptiles, turbans and homemade flutes.
Soprano, last seen on Keasbey Nights II, takes his horn to new levels. Every time the guy blows, he sounds like he’s trying to clean out his spitvalves through force alone. But he’s not overblowing at all; in fact, he sounds like he’s been studying under the great Vinny Nobile, formerly of Bim Skala Bim and the Pilfers, who did all the solos on Catch 22’s Alone in a Crowd, Soprano’s only real C22 record. Check his solo on “Down, Down, Down to Mephisto’s Café” to see how he’s improved over the past seven years.
Unique. Other horn sections follow tracks like a train, while Streetlight’s horn players are given a starting point and a destination, all picking out different Google Maps routes to get from A to B. Bari saxophonist Mike Brown takes the cobble-stoned low road, often riding along side tenor saxophonist Jim Conti while Stewart and Soprano speed on and off on-ramps and highways above them.
Also, since all four horn players aren’t always blowing, the group has taken advantage of their downtime and added layer upon layer of background vocals, giving this release a welcomed sing-along feel. The title track ends with the band of merry men singing chorus after chorus like they’re celebrating friendships at a bar just before closing time.
Beyond the added vocal contributions and the improving horns, which have nearly taken center stage from Kalnoky, the record is very quick and sounds similar at times, a glaring flaw through the first few listens. Other than a subdued intro to “One Foot on the Gas” and the majority of the somber “Forty Days,” the record is nearly all go, no slow. Drastic tempo changes occur much less frequently as compared with past work, and it gives the impression that maybe the band rushed through the writing process, despite having several years to prep.
Attempts to switch things up are hit or miss. Uranium-heavy metal riffs in “Watch It Crash” get buried under even heavier horns. A break in "Would You Be Impressed" features a Mariachi feel, with a well-performed, yet stereotypical trumpet solo over hand percussion. It sounds great, but its inclusion doesn't make the song. Conversely, the hand drums throughout “Forty Days” fit in nicely without ever leaving listeners’ ears feeling busy.
New bassist Peter McCullough walks through his bass lines with a pair of comfy moccasins, but he could have at least brought a pair of rugged New Balances to the studio. With all the horn doodling, lengthy drum fills and guitar solos, we wonder, where have all the flashy bassists gone, really?
One final complaint is the track sequencing. EGN had the epic closer, “The Big Sleep.” “What a Wicked Gang Are We” seems out of place at the end of this record; as track eight, “The Blonde Lead the Blind” had album closer written all over it. On it, Chris Thatcher’s seemingly surgically enhanced drumming reaches its full potential. The song's bridge feature a duel between trombone and trumpet over top Thatcher’s tom work and two chattering saxes. It's absolutely sublime. And from about the three-minute mark onward, the song rolls like the closing credits to your favorite childhood movie. With some playlist editing in Winamp, it could be the end of this year's most impressive, but not perfect, ska-punk album. You know, the one we’ve all been waiting for.
But who's ready for some new BOTAR?