Review Summary: Less than Jake make a title that's ironic. Fans rejoice.
How many bands can truly say they’ve been named after a dog and still garner respect? Apparently, Less than Jake zeroed-in on that niche back in 1992, and come ’96, dominated it. Their first release on Capitol Records and considered their breakout album, Losing Streak
is cited often as the band’s epoch, capturing not only the sound, but true spirit, of ska music: fast, loud, and fairly bitchy. Even from the first few licks of Automatic
, the band’s traditional spry sassiness bursts forth as Chris exclaims, “I think I know it all, but can I be sure of the things I’ve grown to know about?” Tinges of this same attitude are littered in each song, yet it only expands into full-blown ferocity on one track in particular, Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts
. On this retooled Pezcore song, the band calls out members of their local scene that had scorned them for moving on to a major record label, thus effectively “selling out” (a phrase viable for misuse of the century.) They fire off commonplace reasons for most reactions as them not being “punk enough,” the popular writing off of ska as a fad, or just the mere fact that people liked trumpeting how they hated ska, which apparently is still the popular thing to do.
Aside from this one caustic tongue-lashing, the band mainly adheres to relatable topics such as friends, home, and good times; the production of the album, akin to Catch 22’s legendary Keasbey Nights
, magnifies this feeling of do-it-yourself-band-tomfoolery that rests in everyone at one point or another. Coupled with their very boppy style, “fun” proves the single best way to describe Losing Streak. Musically, the album is injected with power that could only come from an idealistic, youthful spirit. It fuels the listener to get active, as punk so often does. One shining aspect, as with most ska bands, would be Roger’s basswork, which hops around like a sprightly child. His lines are very smooth and catchy, adding a technical layer to songs such as the notable Happyman
. As a result of the move to Capitol, the sound is much more refined than on their previous release, Pezcore; as a result the band chose to rerecord two tracks from it, namely the aforementioned Johnny Quest
and Jen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore
. In a way, this hurts the band, since their entire ideology is strengthened by the notion of making music by oneself. It also detracts from their personality, which helped them to differentiate from the rest of the ska crowding the airwaves of the late nineties. The most glaring weakness, however, is the fact that the entire genre itself, and by extent, LtJ, is not generally concerned with making anything memorable. Their definition of “good” basically stops at “catchy,” which hinders any lasting effect of their music.
Nonetheless, Losing Streak is a triumph of the Gainsville quintet. The hooks, when present, suck one into a song quickly. Guitar licks are laid out curtly, jingling comfortably behind the solid trombo-sax work of Jessica, Buddy, and Derron, whose absences are only seen in Jen
; not surprisingly, it proves one of the weaker tracks on the album, almost a testament to Less than Jake’s growth since Pezcore. Lockdown,
sporting possibly the best of the horn section’s practice, closes the album well with a sort of sound attributed to credits tracks in a bad teen movie. Of course, it fits the style much better than it would for said movie, tying up the album on a positive note that urges one to rewind the half-hour power trip. Losing Streak is definitely a noteworthy piece of ska history, epitomizing its blend of punk crunch and poppy speed with clever hooks, an emphasis on fun, and attitude that could make Holden Caulfield sneer.
Actually, he sneers at everything, so scratch that.