The Hand(s) That Thieve(s)

When I checked their article on Wikipedia this morning, it read, “Streetlight Manifesto is an American Post-Ska Punk Gypsy Brahms-core band from New Brunswick, New Jersey.” Before I get into the music, I’m going to give you a little context:

The band has been feuding with their label, Victory Records, for the past couple of years, chiefly over unpaid royalties. They had planned to release their latest album, The Hands That Thieve, in two incarnations. The first would be the album performed by the band, released under Victory, and the second would be the same songs performed by their frontman, Toh Kay, backed up by an acoustic trio, released under the record label that he founded, Pentimento Music Company.

Shortly before the release of the albums, Toh Kay released a music video for the song “With Any Sort of Certainty.” Victory quickly pulled the video from YouTube and gave the band and the man two options to choose from: Release the Toh Kay record under them or cancel it; the latter was decided. Since then, the band and the label are in the middle of a legal battle over who gets to release and profit from their music. Furthermore, Victory has withheld all copies of the preorders for the band’s online store. The album can be purchased in stores, but it seems like the money is going to the label, not the band. In fact, “Victory’s legal team is partially funded by Streetlight’s own music (it’s ridiculous really), so selling merch via the oline (sic) store and at shows is the only way Streetlight can afford to fight the bastards.”

Now, let’s get to the music:

Streetlight has always been a sort-of ska band, but much more than that. They were never afraid to change it up with, say, a breakneck rendition of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dance in G Minor, or the 4-piece horn section recreating the electronic bleeps and bloops intro in their cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” This album marks a sonic palette that has expanded far beyond their epic debut, Everything Goes Numb. The music is more heavily influenced by folk and good old rock and roll than past works, but they don’t shy away from doing whatever the hell they feel like. The second track, “Ungrateful,” starts off with a fun Dixieland intro before kicking you in the face with blaring horns and blazing-fast punk rock. Their version of “With Any Sort of Certainty” comes to an abrupt stop to introduce an eerily atmospheric mid-section, complete with an Inception BWOOOOOM. Needless to say, it’s a mindfuck. One of my favourite tracks, “If Only for Memories,” wouldn’t sound out of place as the new theme song for Dancing With the Stars, and features an awe-inspiring, albeit brief, 4-part counterpoint horn solo which I feel serves as the centerpiece of the album.

Earlier this year, Streetlight Manifesto made the announcement that they would soon be going on a hiatus of sorts. That, coupled with their troubles and battles with their label, the cancelled Toh Kay album, and the fact that this may be the last album they record makes for an epically bittersweet listen.

Listen to the album(s) and do what you can to support them; they need all the help they can get.

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