Review Summary: Hello Rock-Two?
Since the third-wave boom of the late nineties, and its subsequent fall from grace (a term used loosely,) ska has become a scarce resource. Sure, Fat Wreck, Victory, and the cavalcade of overnight independent labels around can always toss a mediocre pop-punk-with-horns outfit into the fray, but those are only good for a short fix before one realizes said band is terrible. And there’s always go-to musician Tom Kalnoky, who is slowly embodying the pinnacle of the genre, but his eclectic work comes few and far between, and only invokes a longing for good times since past. However, the future may be beginning to brighten for modern ska, with Less than Jake as its harbinger. Fresh out of a Prince-style emancipation from their major-label follies at Warner, LTJ have renounced the mainstream-bait sound they were once charged to create, tossing away the catchy hooks and bubblegum pop sounds for…well, catchy hooks and bubblegum pop sounds…but with horns! In reality, the band is trying to reverse a failed transition they began early in the decade, and what better way to do so than load up an album with everything that made them great in ‘98? GNV FLA
clumsily melds the band’s old DIY-style approach with their newer, crisp-yet-empty sound, making the album a vortex of cautious joy.
How an album flows altogether has never been a general concern to punk musicians, but GNV FLA
seems to have some form of flow, notably in the first three tracks and their significance. Nostalgia-heads will roll upon the aged-sounding intro to opener City of Gainesville
, obviously a testament to LTJ’s “good old days.” Ironically, it leads into the hornless and guitar-driven The State of Florida
, moreso reflecting the current image of the band as straight pop-punk. Does the Lion City Still Roar
, having been released early as a teaser for the album, follows up the two as their perfectly-mixed youngest brother, and a representation of everything the band wants to be now. A wise choice for whetting fans’ appetites, as the song absolutely crushes any misconceptions of the band as abandoning their roots and home-grown ideals. Any brass’ mere presence would easily electrify a fan’s senses, so Lion City
surely sent Less than Jakers into a frenzy when it appeared on the band’s website in its honking glow. Despite it flaunting its skill across much of the album, albeit brashly, the horn line is particularly top-notch here, sufficiently reflecting the image of “the Lion City’s sirens sing[ing] the night away.”
Unfortunately, the opening trio proves one of the only moments on the album that fully realizes that revitalization goal, the other (oddly enough) being the final three tracks. The Life of the Party Has Left the Building
evokes memories of Infinity on High and Let Your Body Take Over, in both title and style. Tempo halts as This One’s Gonna Leave a Bruise
leads into it, bridging the gap between the traditional boppy-party air the former emanates, and Devil in My DNA
’s more stalwart crunch. Between these six songs, the typical attachment to home and youthful values found in LTJ work since passed emerges, often through rants about the current “[rotting] of the Lion City.” The general message muddles throughout the space in between, caught somewhere amidst pining for the past and spitting on the idea of a future. As a nostalgia addict myself, I can relate to LTJ’s love for memories of better times and the attachment these memories hold to their home. However, that’s what is stagnating their sound on GNV FLA
. By clinging to past values and ideals while trying to simultaneously move forward with their conventional sound, the band has refused itself the ability to go out of both aspects of their comfort area, further confining the sound they created. A few tracks midway through blur together (Conviction Notice
and Malachi Richter
come to mind,) and almost everything sounds like it could easily have been plucked from Hello Rockview
. This has basically plunked the band right back where it was ten years ago, but with the added frenetic nature of modern popular music. Not the makings of a terribly great future.
Through it all, one thing is perfectly clear: Less than Jake and their snotnosed, metalheaded debauchery have finally returned, if only for a little while. While a welcome return to form both aurally and conceptually by the aged ska favorite, GNV FLA
also takes on the methodical curse of the genre (need I re-drop the Ska by Numbers bit?) Only time will tell if it is merely a dull sparkle in the fading light of both the band’s and genre's lifespan, or the first flecks of a new dawn. And I’m sure I’m not alone in gunning for the latter.