Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Toh Kay - Streetlight Lullabies (2011)
I was first introduced to Tomas Kalnoky by a friend at summer camp when I was 15 through his short tenure with Catch 22. Before that, my music taste was a complete mess – bits of hip hop and R&B absorbed from my mother, mainstream pop heard on the radio, video game soundtracks and classical recordings. But when I first heard Catch 22, something woke up in me. I underwent a completely musical rebirth anchored by lyricism. By the time I was introduced to Catch 22, Tomas Kalnoky and half the band had already parted ways and went off to start Streetlight Manifesto and post-Kalnoky Catch 22 did nothing for me and despite how much I enjoyed Streetlight Manifesto’s music , the majority of my listens accompanied my frantic search and review of their lyrics. So when Tomas Kalnoky announced a solo side project last year I was delighted, excited, and ready and willing to hear what he did.
Toh Kay’s first release was a split album with MU330’s Dan Potthast and strangely did very little for me. Why? Expectation. I had assumed when Tomas Kalnoky went solo he would reach previously unreached heights of creativity and deliver dozens of new songs. While it was certainly interesting that his official solo release was a covers album, it wasn’t what I was expecting and I was a bit confused. When I heard Toh Kay would be releasing an actual solo album, I grew excited again…until I saw the tracklisting. Toh Kay’s debut solo album was to essentially be a “cover” album so to speak. True, they were songs that he had personally written but they were songs from his days in Catch 22 and Streetlight Manifesto. I was once again disappointed and unsure of how to feel about the man who introduced me to meaningful lyricism in music. I had no intention of listening to the album. But a friend’s excitement won out and I sat down with it.
Streetlight Lullabies is an album that’s almost guaranteed to be regarded poorly by fans of Tomas Kalnoky’s previous works; namely Catch 22 and Streetlight Manifesto. On it, Tomas Kalnoky strips down completely, more so than his acoustic side band Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution. Gone is the raucous accompaniment and thus his need for his fiery, mostly shouted vocals. He trades in angry, anthemic revolutionary for world-weary troubadour who’s singing to no one in particular and handpicks some of the most resonating tracks in his catalogue.
Once I was able to put my expectations to the side, I was able to really enjoy Streetlight Lullabies. It highlights Tomas Kalnoky in a way you might not have been familiar: As a particularly talented guitarist. With all the horns and drums and miscellaneous cacophony of his bands, it’s something you might have somehow overlooked on top of his brilliant songwriting. Stripped down with more or less new arrangements, this becomes remarkably clear purely because there’s nothing else to distract you. Streetlight Lullabies is just Kalnoky and his guitar singing songs he’s spent lots of time with and strangely that’s okay. So while I hope Kalnoky eventually branches out and sings some new songs, his comfort and brand new take on songs I’ve held close to my heart for years are a welcome appetizer. Here’s hoping Kalnoky serves up a stellar feast that can shatter everyone’s expectations.