Review Summary: Everyone's favourite Floridian ska-punks bust out a convincing return-to-form with an invigorating record dedicated to their hometown.
Remember when you were young, and there'd be those horrible occasions where your mum would insist on you looking smart, and being on your best behaviour? Maybe one of those awkward family gatherings where you'd be made to wear your best shirt - y'know, that one with the itchy collar and sleeves that were always too long. Maybe even a tie to add insult to injury. You'd be sat there for hours, bored and frustrated, acting all unassuming and polite to people you can't stand; all the while those same people, seemingly ignorant, commenting on how "the kid is so adorable!"
Seems Less Than Jake
have spent the last few years in something of a similar situation, enduring a second spell among the ranks of a major label. Only recently, bassist/vocalist Roger let it slip in a video interview that Warner Bros. had hinted to the band "if [the band] kept going in that fast punk rock horn direction, that would be bad." Suddenly, the three records they put out on Warners (Anthem
, B is for B-Sides
and In With the Out Crowd
) are put into perspective - yes, the band honed their ability to write poppy hooks and radio-friendly songs, but the records in question, despite their many highlights, lacked a certain energy and familiar charm, that spark that sets LTJ apart from the pack. Turns out all along that Mr. and Mrs. Record Executive were dressing their newly adopted sons up in a stifling outfit fit for the most MTV-friendly of pop-punk bands.
Well, GNV FLA
is the sound that accompanies LTJ tearing off the tie, rolling up their sleeves, and storming out of the family gathering, having told Uncle Ed exactly how sh
it his disco is. Released on the band's own Sleep It Off Records label, the album sees Less Than Jake
taking the pop sensibilities of their last three records, and reintroducing the energy and sass of their older material - the ska parts are bouncier, the basslines and drumming more frantic, the riffs chunkier, and most importantly - after having been almost completely relegated from the mix on In With the Out Crowd
- the horns are back with a vengeance!!! Chris and Roger have upped the ante in the vocal department; for what seems like the first time in the band's career, they've split vocal duties pretty much equally, often trading off line-for-line within a single verse or chorus, and with the added bonus that you're never more than a few seconds away from hearing the two team up for a sublime two-part vocal harmony.
What's most intriguing about the album is it's lyrical focus. LTJ have spent a significant part of their career singing about their hometown of Gainesville Florida (if it isn't already obvious, GNV FLA
is the area code for the city), but combined with the darker lyrical route the band took with Anthem
, the result here is a brutally honest social commentary on the decline of Gainesville and Florida in general. Lines like "The city's skyline hasn't looked the same, since the boom in South Florida's real estate," "Lion City sirens scream the night away, there's an overdose on 8th, and he's wearing a blue face,"
and "When is common sense too much to ask, and when did consequences get left in the past?"
are just a few examples of the righteous indignation the band are harbouring towards the way their beloved city is being run into the ground. It's clearly a subject the band have been deliberating over for some time, having touched on themes of urban decay in "Lockdown"
twelve years ago, but here, spread across a whole album, it provides a unifying concept that binds the songs together without taking away from the main point of the record - the music.
From the laid back ska-reggae opener "City of Gainesville"
to the record's furious conclusion in "Devil in My DNA,"
the songs cover all the bases you'd expect - thunderous melodic punk workouts ("The State of Florida,"
and "Settling Son"
both of which showcase Chris' lead guitar abilities nicely), horn-driven rockers (lead single "Does the Lion City Still Roar?"
and "Golden Age of My Negative Ways"
), bouncy ska numbers ("The Space They Can't Touch"
and UK bonus track "Antidote for the Underdog"
), and some which combine LTJ's whole range of styles ("Handshake Meet Pokerface"
and "Conviction Notice"
). With the overall mood and feel of the album echoing 2000's career-highlight Borders and Boundaries
, Matt Allison's fantastic production job (lying perfectly somewhere between the grit of the band's early recordings and the sheen of the recent material, with a great live feel to it) and the fact that there isn't a single second of filler material to be found here, Less Than Jake have created their most consistent collection of songs, and given more time to sink in, possibly their finest album to date.