Review Summary: GNV FLA could turn out to be the most accessible release of the now-veteran band's career.
The last time yours truly stumbled upon a fortuitous urban planning reference in song, he was on his fifth or sixth listening of Maximo Park’s Our Earthly Pleasures
, one of the standout rock records of 2007. Was your writer to look back, 15 years later, upon a career in his chosen field (needlessly referring to himself in the third-person, one would assume), it’s a safe bet he’d bypass things like property booms and talk about the good sh
it. Not so for legendary skankin’ Floridians Less Than Jake. GNV FLA
, the first new release on their own Sleep It Off Records (distributed by Cooking Vinyl), tackles with admirable honesty the perceived decline of their adopted home city.
Once a hotbed for punk and hardcore music (the city would later give rise to the likes of Against Me!
and Hot Water Music
), and a city with a unique character of its own, Gainesville has increasingly, in recent years, become a hotbed for property development as generic suburbia replaces the individual character the city used to possess. As co-frontmen Chris Demakes and Roger Manganelli note on ‘The State Of Florida’: “the city’s skyline hasn’t looked the same / since the boom of Florida’s real estate / it’s turning into more than I can take / too much, too soon, too little, too late.”
Such observations might seem trivial at first, but for Less Than Jake it’s the symptom of a wider problem within their society: the ruthless pursuit of change, of wealth, success, whatever, without due regard for what’s being lost as a result.
It would be remiss at this point not to turn the analogy back upon the band itself, and there might well be a deal of self-criticism laced within these lyrics. With their Sire Records debut Anthem
in 2003, Less Than Jake slowly began to play down the ska elements of their sound, most notably the razor-tight brass section, and became for all intents and purpose a straightforward guitar rock band. In attempting to broaden their sound, Less Than Jake failed to attract a significant new audience, while inadvertently alienating the core audience that had made them a cult success on the fringes of the pop world. The internet release of lead single ‘Does The Lion City Still Roar"’ in May saw a triumphant reversal of this trend, marrying infectious horn melodies with sharp dual-vocals that would suggest nothing had changed in the world of Less Than Jake.
Yet, clearly, the five have been revitalised, in spirit as well as their minds. GNV FLA
is arguably their strongest set of songs to date, 14 (15 in the UK) tracks that blend together seamlessly with only the odd lull in quality towards the middle. Short mini-tracks help link up the storytelling nature of the album: ‘The Life Of The Party Has Left The Building,’ which could be favourably compared with one of American Idiot
’s numerous segue pieces, lasts barely 40 seconds, but helps bind together the carefree party song ‘This One’s Going To Leave A Bruise’ with the altogether more sinister and aggressive ‘Devil In My DNA’; opening salvo ‘City Of Gainesville’ is the ideal companion piece to barnstormer ‘The State Of Florida,’ settling the album in with a light ska swing before the latter floods the gates with self-aware punk rock aggression and the oldest pun in the book.
Special mention must be made for the horn section- which includes Reel Big Fish
’s on-loan trumpeteer Scott Klopfenstein- as their arrangements are every bit as fun and inventive as Streetlight Manifesto
’s, and could rival the former for the premier ska-pop album of the past 12 months. If the horn section’s appearance on a couple of tracks- notably ‘This One’s Going To Leave A Bruise’ and ‘Summon Monsters’- seems superfluous, they’re an integral part of each of the album’s highlights. ‘Abandon Ship’ feigns grungy introversion before bristling into an oddly optimistic chorus, during which Chris observes: “[I’m] treading water with weights around my neck / a shipwreck of reckless accidents / overboard and I’m about to quit […] abandon ship ‘cause it’s sinking way too quick.”
‘Conviction Notice’ and ‘Does The Lion City Still Roar"’ see horns evoke the album’s most memorable and recognisable melodies, the former reverting to a hard-nosed pop punk chorus in which Roger “tell[s] ‘em all to go to hell.”
Speaking from the point of view of somebody’s whose closest relationship with Gainesville is a trip to the Everglades and the very helpful Wikipedia article, it’s impressive that GNV FLA
manages to be subtly educational without overloading the listener with obscure local references or forcefully projecting the writers’ opinions. Even without that added depth, GNV FLA
is a ska-pop album out of the top drawer, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if it turned out to be the most accessible release of the now-veteran group’s career.