At long last, the New Brunswick-based badasses are back.
Almost six years since their previous original album, Somewhere in the Between, Hands is the result of many delays, rescheduled release dates, and even a lyrical rerecording. On top of all that, Streetlight Manifesto has been very vocal about having a plethora of difficulties working with their label, Victory Records, prior to release. All of that has been gossiped to death though. Let’s talk about what we’ve been waiting for: the music!
- The Three Of Us- This track sounds like it could be a b-side off of “Somewhere In The Between”. It’s musicianship at its finest, utilizing plenty of classic Streetlight buildups and drops. Definitely the right choice to start off the album.
- Ungrateful- Holy punk, Batman. This song’s a fun one, and it reminds me of something that Catch 22’s Keasbey Nights was trying to accomplish. Seriously, there are even slight lyrical callbacks to the song “Sick & Sad”. Classic punk flavors and lovely arpeggios from the horns during the chorus blend together to create a deliciously melodic smoothie. This will definitely be a great song to hear live!
- The Littlest Things- Not the best track off the album, but jeez, just listen to that horn melody! This won’t be one of the songs you’re singing to yourself hours after listening, but it is fun while it lasts.
- The Hands That Thieve- This is the best song on the album, hands down. The intro, the lyrics, the horn-lines, the chorus, the gang vocals. It’s all perfect. You’ll get tennis-ball sized goosebumps when the song gets to 4:40, trust me. I won’t say anything else. Not too sure why they faded this one out, but that doesn’t take much away from the rest of the tune.
- With Any Sort Of Certainty- This is the song that your car will be blasting for your entire summer vacation. It’s absolutely in the top 3 songs from Hands. Learn the words and sing/shout along!
- If Only For Memories- Oh gosh, this song is so fun. Try not to dance, I dare you. Probably one of the strongest on the album, both lyrically and stylistically. And look at that: a beautiful horn chorale at 3:23 to bring it all together!
- They Broke Him Down- What a fun anthem. Plenty of differing dynamics and crescendos to bring listeners in. And listen to the saxes during the first horn-line! How can you not love that stuff? However, things get a little too repetitive towards the very end. A good track overall.
- Toe to Toe- Lots of mixed feelings here. I love the verse lyrics, horns, and melodies in this piece, but I can’t get over how crappy the chorus’s lyrics are. They’re just bad, yet it’s been stuck in my head for days. The song doesn’t some good work in terms of pacing and tempo, but the chorus really gets to me.
- Oh Me, Oh My- This song, man. This song is fantastic. I’m calling it right now, this will be the track Streetlight plays right before they wait for an encore. It’s a simple anthem, and works well as a second-to-last-hurrah for Hands. Try your best not to picture a bunch of singing pirates sway back and forth while drinking frothy beers. It’s impossible. This songs got great flavor and beautiful passion.
- Your Day Will Come- A new classic for the band and the absolute best song to finish off The Hands That Thieve. Bravo, Streetlight Manifesto.
My Overall Impressions
Theme: Every Streetlight/Kalnoky album usually has a cohesive theme or idea that brings everything together. Somewhere In the Between has religious skepticism, Everything Goes Numb had death, and this album seems to be hitting a lot on the concept of truth. Whether it be lying, facades, fate, remaining true to your own ideals, or just sticking to your guns. Each song’s theme leads well into the next, even when they could be stylistically unrelated. It’s handled a lot less clumsily than their first album, and it’s not as on the nose as their second. Third time’s the charm, right? 4.5/5
Lyrics: I have mixed feelings. Though Kalnoky remains faithful to throwing in a “yeah yeah” or an “oh my god” at the end of most stanzas, they still work for the band’s sound. I bounce between loving those simple cheers in each song, to thinking that the only purpose they serve is to make your little brother know some of the lyrics. Although, I must give credit where it’s due: the lyrics in this album are still as thought-provoking, heartfelt, and unique as ever. The diction used in Hands is a lot less grandiose, and I feel like it complements the direction of the album, just as the more complex diction did with Somewhere. The simpler nature can make some of the choruses a little less exciting, like in “If Only For Memories” and “Toe to Toe”, but it doesn’t cripple any of the songs. Streetlight’s lyrics are well known for their versatile understandings, and that element continues to reign true. 4/5
Instrumentation This is where the album truly shines. Each note feels like it’s played with a high degree of passion, which is something that remains absent from a lot of recent ska-based music. Every horn-line is flawlessly executed, each instrument layers and harmonizes perfectly, and everything is produced quite well. The intonation is a lot cleaner on this release, despite some odd and splatty mixing from the trumpet on occasion. The band plays energetically when it’s needed and quietly when it’s earned. I still think their new trombonist could ease up on the vibrato, but he really rips some licks apart, specifically in “The Three Of Us” and “Oh Me, Oh My”. The bass and drums are top-notch, and further demonstrate that the guys from Streetlight are only getting more and more talented. 5/5
The Final Word: This is Streetlight Manifesto’s finest work to date, by far. I would have liked to see the band incorporate more songs with slower tempos (Toe to Toe doesn’t do quite enough work, in my opinion) to help distinguish the album’s pacing a little more, but that’s a mild annoyance. The theme is well handled, the lyrics are good, and the musicianship is better than ever. This is definitely a must-buy for fans of this kind of music. 4.5/5