Issue #77: GNV FLA by Less Than Jake

August 7, 2017

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GNV FLA by Less Than Jake
Released On June 24, 2008
Released By Sleep It Off Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By James Anderson

When I was a freshman in college, my suitemate and future Best Man introduced me to Less Than Jake. He sent me a couple songs in something like October and by March, I finally got around to listening to them (I am far better at listening to suggestions in a timely manner nowadays). I fell in love with a song called “Scott Farcas Takes It On the Chin” from an excellent album called Hello Rockview. I had the opportunity to see them 5 or 6 times in concert over the next 8 years and they never played “Scott Farcas”. They almost played it at a show that my future Best Man’s band opened for them, but then they decided to play a song off of the recently released album, Anthem, instead. It wasn’t until Warped Tour 2009 that I finally got to see them play my favorite song.

Anthem was a bit of a departure for the band. Less horns, more straightforward rock songs, and a solid presence on MTV, which was fine by me, but a bit discouraging for Future Best Man, who had loved them for many years and didn’t want to see a beloved band change with increased popularity. Anthem had a song called “The Science Of Selling Yourself Short” that went a long way towards allaying his fears, but there were signs that he and the band were on diverging paths. It was released right as we were finishing our sophomore year in college and making plans to move off campus for the remaining years. Over the next year, I would begin to date and spend lots of time with the woman I would eventually marry.

I didn’t know that GNV FLA had been released until I saw Less Than Jake play at that Warped Tour in 2009. I was taking my sister to her first Warped Tour and I’ll never forget the range of emotions that crossed her face when “Scott Farcas” started playing. I am quite a massive guy and I don’t hold back when I’m at show and a song I love is being played. But for most of the set, I wasn’t embarrassing my sister. I was standing there in awe as LTJ cranked out these songs I’d never heard that had that old sound, but were clearly very new. I resolved to pick up the album and confirm my suspicions that, after falling off my radar for a couple of years, they were back in full force. I was three years into my marriage and living far away from all of my friends from college. Hearing those horns blasting and the guitar pumping and the drums pounding hurtled me back through the years and all the amazing memories I had of dancing and rocking out to this band both at concerts and in dorm rooms.

GNV FLA is a mature record. It deals with themes that band has touched on before (e.g., drug abuse, watching helplessly as friends destroy themselves, reassuring themselves and others that everything is going to be alright) but where other Less Than Jake albums feel nomadic and restless, GNV FLA feels like an album by a band that has decided to put down stakes and improve their surroundings. There’s still time to party and even though the outlook isn’t great for everyone, they’re here to stay and they’re going to do their best to make sure everyone is having a good time for as long as possible.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

Ska punk legends coming full circle with a late career record chronicling the highs and lows of their hometown.

I truly believe that anyone who has gone through a third wave ska-punk phase has, at least at one point, considered Less Than Jake to be their favorite band. I don’t have any statistics to back me up other than the fact that when I was 15, Less Than Jake was my favorite band. I once spent an entire (school) night looking for a way to “prove” that they were my favorite band (the process involved taking the discography of every band I liked and ranking their albums based on the ratio of songs I liked against songs I didn’t like. However, I played it very loosely because I already knew I wanted Less Than Jake to be the end result.) Hell, even these days there is almost nothing that I won’t drop if going to see Less Than Jake live is an option. So, you can imagine my delight when I saw that this week’s selection was none other than Less Than Jake and quite possibly their most overlooked album, GNV FLA. Even though the focus of this week is specifically GNV FLA, I found myself listening to the band’s entire discography because I think it’s the only fair way to properly understand GNV FLA and its place in the band’s history. I encourage everyone to do the same because its context is important. The band’s previous releases were light on the ska offerings: 2003’s Anthem‘s overall reception has remained fairly positive over the years, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen the band escape criticism for removing the horns from the music video for “She’s Gonna Break Soon,” but 2006’s In With the Out Crowd was (and, for some, still is) often considered to be the weakest point in Less Than Jake’s output. Almost as a response to this, GNV FLA was heralded as their “return to form” album. I can remember the hype surrounding the album’s first single “Does The Lion City Still Roar?,” and how praise for the song was almost entirely based on the fact that the song was a ska-punk song. It got people to be excited for new material by Less Than Jake again. In spite of that, and this is what makes the album so interesting, it seems as if GNV FLA has all but faded into obscurity since its release. Its songs rarely make it into the band’s live sets and even though no one outright hates the album, it just doesn’t seem to hold up well when stacked against the rest of the band’s albums. Even bassist/vocalist Roger Lima ranked it at seventh place out of nine (if you’re confused about what the ninth album is when the band has only released eight studio albums, it’s because he included B Is For B-Sides, which, let’s be real here, is a completely valid move), while drummer/primary lyricist Vinnie Fiorello ranked it dead last. Which is a damn shame, because GNV FLA is a solid album through and through. It might be far from being considered Less Than Jake’s “best record” but that’s only because Less Than Jake has an absurd good-to-bad album ratio (I would even argue that their “bad” albums aren’t bad, just less good than the others). GNV FLA marks the beginning of Less Than Jake being completely free and independent to write songs that they felt like writing, and the end result is the signature high energy ska punk sound that makes the band so beloved. “Handshake Meets Pokerface” and the brief “Golden Age Of My Negative Ways” ring back to the band’s earlier days with plenty of horns and barely enough time for multiple choruses, while “Summon Monsters” has some strong Hello Rockview vibes, and the faux-metal riffage in “Settling Son” is reminiscent of that same album’s “Last One Out Of Liberty City.” It’s the kind of album that only a band like Less Than Jake could write, taking everything they’ve learned from the ups and downs of having been on two major labels and touring the world for — at the time of the album’s release — 16 years (for reference, as of this writing the band has now been around for 25 years). It may not be as celebrated as it should be, but there’s a reason guitarist/vocalist Chris Demakes called GNV FLA the “quintessential Less Than Jake record” upon its release: because it is.

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

At 3 AM a couple of weeks ago, sleepless and quiet, I read an article about depressed people who are still productive. Do you shower? Go to work? one therapist asked the author. At his affirmation, she declared then you’re not depressed. Jeez, lady, I thought — you can list all your faults and how everyone probably hates you in the shower just as easily as you can in your greasy, unwashed bed. Case in point: after a difficult week and an especially dark turn I gave myself Saturday night combined with an insecurity of writing about ska because I don’t know it, I never listen to it, I spent Sunday morning worrying about this paragraph right here. Upon first listen I was taken back to Clueless, when Christian takes Cher to that party and ignores her in favor of that other cute dude, and what ska-lover wouldn’t roll her eyes at that? But duty calls even a depressed me so a late-afternoon drugstore run finds me pouring a glass of wine, dumping a bunch of new make-up I don’t know how to use into my bathroom sink, and putting on Less Than Jake. Oh my god, we’re getting on the freeway I thought as I pried the lid off some kind of pore-minimizing primer (face primer? when did this happen) and force my brain to shut up so my mind could work. If GNV FLA reminds me of high school, that’s not such a bad thing, considering teenage exuberance is exactly what post-30’s people crave, what all this make-up on my face was trying to encapture. Alone in my house, white primer smudging with taupe brow pencil, I was bouncing by “Does The Lion City Still Roar?” and full-out dancing by “Handshake Meets Pokerface/.” Ska by definition is young, enthusiastic even with cynical lyrics, the kind of music that makes you forget to think. Sometimes, as much as things like credit scores and are my arms fat are legitimate concerns, you have to just stop and jump around and scare your cat by screaming out half made up lyrics. So while there’s a serious chance I’ll be wearing bathing suit bottoms instead of underwear tomorrow because I can’t deal with laundry, and it looks like I’m going to finish this wine and maybe smoke half a pack for dinner, this album got me up and unburied from my couch, and I wrote this standing upright.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

I haven’t much thought about Less Than Jake since the late ’90s, and I was surprised they still put out music — after all, the ’90s Richmond punk scene that served as a mirror to the one in Gainesville, Florida, eventually folded to make way for what is now a pretty diverse music city. Did LTJ still have something to say? Were they still relevant? As it turns out the answers are “yes” and “kind of.” GNV FLA is a self-aware record — the band wonders if their city is a good place to grow up and work forty hours a week (“Settling Son“) and also offers a smart critique of their changing state (“Between the garbage and the concrete, to the construction / Grounds under our feet / A boomtown gone bust, a goldmine to dust that’s disintegrating” in “The State Of Florida“). Several of the other songs discuss aging and the feeling you get when you’ve been in one place too long. Even with the shift in lyrical content, if you strip away the horns and ska rhythms, you’re left with something similar to a [insert pop punk band of your choice] record. I can’t always connect to music that strongly correlates to a certain era of my youth, but GNV FLA tries so hard to be modern. The band created a punk record where each song sounds different from the one before it, an impressive feat. The melodies are also more mature than their early records, as the band seems less obsessed with finger-pointing, singalong choruses like “Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sellouts” and more interested in well-crafted songs from beginning to end. I might not return to this record as much as I have other OYR selections, but it’s a bold and fascinating example of a band figuring out how to grow up without losing their identity.

Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ

Click here to watch the live / animated music video for “Conviction Notice.”

Perhaps the best advertisement for attending a ska punk show out there, though we doubt the cartoons will make an appearance.

Have you ever been to Gainesville, Florida? I haven’t, but after listening to GNV FLA by Less Than Jake, I’d say I’m curious enough to take a trip down to the sunshine state. Despite the rampant drug scene, expensive real estate, strung out teens, and the daunting truth that whole state slowly sinking in to the sea, GNV FLA is 36 minutes of bittersweet tribute songs from the homesick Less Than Jake to their beloved city of Gainesville. Although it seems their relationship with the Lion City is potentially a toxic one from listening to the album, GNV FLA is without a doubt an incredibly intense and sincere album. After their 2006 release In with The Out Crowd on Sire Records, it’s reasonable to believe that the band longed to return to their roots and trade in their polished major label success for the raw power and creative freedom that comes with an independent release on their own newly launched label, Sleep It Off Records. So, what is the result of all this creative freedom? An album that is sentimental and emotive but not lacking in power. Less Than Jake successfully blend angst, ecstasy, loneliness, and a raging party into a 36-minute wall of sound that could make even the most bro-dude sentimental. Stand out tracks include “Devil In My DNA,” “The Space They Can’t Touch,” and “Does The Lion City Still Roar?” Each of these tracks hit on the critical points of this album which are as follows: 1. I hate myself, 2. I hate you, and 3. I hate change. This album is a highly relatable for anyone who feels like they may be growing up too fast and long for one more night to remember.

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

Less Than Jake is like a staple for ’90s ska kids. That said, I was really more #TeamReelBigFish (shoutout to my bro!), if hashtag teams had been a thing back then. Still, Less Than Jake’s appeal and strongly etched place in the punk/ska community wasn’t lost on me; especially considering the two bands toured together extensively. Even if someone were to discover this album not knowing that GNV FLA came on the heels of the band breaking away from the major label mold and starting their own (Sleep It Off Records), the installment is drenched in nostalgic hometown love; from starting track titles (“City Of Gainesville,” “The State Of Florida“) to lyrically planted observation of nuance only a local could fully appreciate (“And the cities skyline hasn’t looked the same / Since the boom in south Florida’s real estate / It’s turning into more than I can take / Too much, too soon, too little, too late”). When a band turns to the familiar parts of its past for a creative jumpstart, the thought of a hard reset is difficult to avoid but, doing so usually isn’t always a bad thing. As someone who admittedly visits Less Than Jakes music in a mostly revolving door kind of fashion, GNV FLA feels appreciable and classic. This is the band’s seventh album but the record doesn’t feel like the kind of work born from a band that’s run out of genuine energy and that’s phoning it in by solely saying, “See, we’re still ska! Listen to our prominent trumpet parts!” The wordplay is cheeky and fun (See also Relient K: “The Vinyl Countdown“) and pairs exceedingly well with the brisk tempos and chugging lead guitar power chords that cross Less Than Jake into pop punk/power pop territory. Yes, there’s a degree of final product sheen on this album but isn’t the point of earning profits from music to sometimes be able to acquire and use better tools/work with experienced professionals so the music can sound ways it didn’t before? The record feels easy, casual, and yes, accessible (this is a word not to be feared) but GNV FLA projects an air of sincere enjoyment that shows Less Than Jakes didn’t just rely on signature and-or singular elements to uphold their fanbase. And for those reading this from outside the Less Than Jake camp no need to feel apprehensive about ska’s front gate. Just go to your streaming place of choice and press play when you’re going for a run, playing ball, chilling on the beach, or need an upbeat number for your next party.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

By the time Less Than Jake hit it big in the late nineties, I was fully engulfed in everything Wu-Tang, and had said goodbye to rock as a whole. However, I was fully aware of them as their happy-go-lucky sound was all the rage, and seemingly unavoidable if you were a kid in suburbia. Listening to GNV FLA, I immediately understood why the group connected with so many teens and young adults of that era — it’s the angst. The angst of your hometown suffocating your independent spirit (“The State Of Florida” and “Does The Lion City Still Roar?“). But then there’s also the endearing quality to the songwriting in that despite all of the muck being thrown our way, everything is gonna be ok. Take “Golden Age Of My Negative Ways” where we are invited to “sit back and watch the train wreck,” or the comforting refrain of “City Of Gainesville” — “I may be broke, but I’m never broken down.” There’s an arm around the shoulder of every kid feeling like a weirdo, or feeling like a small fish in a giant pond. It’s the most energetic comfort music possible. I also have to give major props to the mix engineer on this record. By the time I got to “Malachi Richter’s Liquor’s Quicker,” I realized that the mixing throughout the record is excellent. Usually, fast paced rock albums with driving guitars and drums sacrifice volume for vocal clarity. But every vocal performance on this record cuts through perfectly, which reinforces the band’s lyric driven style.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

“Why?” may be even more interesting than “What?” when you’re looking back at the music you were into in middle school. That’s when I started listening to Less Than Jake; I have copies of Pezcore and Losers, Kings, And Things We Don’t Understand in a giant, dusty CD binder, though the cover of Losing Streak seems most familiar when I look back at the band’s album art from that era. I don’t know how I first heard about them, but I do remember feeling devoted. I even followed instructions in one of their CD booklets and sent a self-addressed, stamped envelope to get stickers or a patch or some other form of free merch. (Sadly, booklets never made it into the CD binder.) I tried out bands with significant genre overlap — I still have my copy of Millencolin’s For Monkeys — but nothing resonated like Less Than Jake, and I spent much of the week trying to reverse engineer why, with GNV FLA as my guide. What these guys do well, they do really well. There’s an overarching brightness, even in minor-key songs like “Does The Lion City Still Roar?” and “Settling Son,” that hits your brain’s pleasure center hard, from harmony-sweetened vocals to horns that fill breaks with good-time vibes. And there’s an unflagging sense of propulsion, which made running in the heat this week genuinely easier, like gravity was a little weaker. But melody has always been nearest and dearest for me, and that’s where the group truly shines, whether in the horn accompaniment, the choice of power chords, or the lead vocals. If you sample nothing else on GNV FLA, try out “The Space They Can’t Touch” and pay close attention to the run of quarter notes just before the chorus kicks in. Pure melodic bliss.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

LTJ is as vibrant as ever here, using ever trick and trade in the ska punk playbook to make a compelling and ultimately fun record.

Ah, the late nineties. I remember those days, back when faux ska-punks No Doubt had opened the door for actual ska-punk bands like Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish to get on the radio. Back when local DIY scenes were full of bands who’d found a way to cram puns featuring the word “ska” into their name (we had “The Eskalators” around here, which I always thought was a bit of a reach). Back when local punks were giving the band geeks who hung around the margins of the all-ages scene a way to be cool, by playing trumpet onstage with a few of the skaters from their high school who actually knew far less about their instruments than their horn-playing compatriots. The wave began to build with the late-’80s success of Operation Ivy, a Cali punk band who discovered the energetic thrill of incorporating upstrokes and off-beats they’d learned from 20-year-old Jamaican records. Somewhere between the demise of Op Ivy and Reel Big Fish hitting the Modern Rock Top 10 with “Sell Out” came Less Than Jake, whose seventh album is up for consideration this week. I heard a song or two by Less Than Jake back in the day, but when the ska trend was in full flower I was several years out of high school and knee-deep in the concurrent fastcore/power-violence trend, and had no time for LTJ. Listening to GNV FLA now, I’m surprised at how ska this album actually isn’t — unless having a horn section in your pop-punk band automatically makes you a ska band. Not in my book, to be honest. The upstrokes Op Ivy had such a blast with a decade earlier show up in places, but most of the time this record sounds more like Cali skate-punk of the era (think NoFX or Lagwagon) with some horn-section accents than it ever does like anything recorded by the Skatalites in the 1960s. That’s not a bad thing as far as it goes — songs like “This One’s Gonna Leave A Bruise” and the powerful one-two punch of dual opener “City Of Gainesville” / “The State Of Florida” make an impression regardless of whether or not they live up to the advance billing. The horn section doesn’t always feel entirely relevant — one senses that the band knows this, since sometimes they’re only heard for 20 seconds of every two minutes of music — and sometimes the upstrokes seem less like an energy-providing lifeforce and more like an obligation that doesn’t necessarily justify itself. Mostly though, this album transcends its era of origin far more effectively than all the checked pants and high school trumpet cases with Specials stickers on them. Unlike those, if you dig this album out of mothballs for the first time in nine years, you won’t be embarrassed to see it again.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

Ah, the good old days of ska punk. Smoking cigarettes in the park, watching the sun set over my suburban town, and Less Than Jake playing softly in the background. I’m not sure where I would be right now without “The Science Of Selling Yourself Short” or “Plastic Cup Politics,” just to name a few of the LTJ tracks that made my heart pitter patter through my high school years. Admittedly, GNV FLA quite literally flew off my radar, however. My good memories with Less Than Jake are based more permanently in Hello Rockview, Losing Streak, and Anthem. I’m glad this record was picked so it would give me a good excuse to revisit my ska punk roots of yester-adolescence — GNV FLA is truly a hidden gem in a long line of bands skanking up a storm and touting the ska punk title. Frankly, Less Than Jake rules. They’re always going to rule. What’s more impressive is that they’re still doing it and going strong with no signs of stopping. I’m ranting, I know, but GNV FLA reminded me why I fell in love with Less Than Jake so long ago. They write catchy songs and hooks, the horn section is phenomenal (every single time), and the lyrics they write are relatable. The album we’re covering this week is no different. I don’t need to dabble and list song titles for you; start anywhere you’d like on GNV FLA. You’re going to find uplifting, high energy, clean sounding ska punk tunes. If you’re looking for a band that has stuck to their roots without making their sound repetitive and bored, Less Than Jake is here with open arms.

Catherine Dempsey (@coffincutieee)
Emo Kid Seeking Hardcore Band

Because of dozens of amazing musicians and hearing AJ Styles get announced on TV each week, I may know more about Gainesville, FL than Less Than Jake, something that made listening to GNV FLA an interesting experience this past week. It’s not that I dislike Less Than Jake or avoided the whole ska punk scene, it’s just something I never really dug into much, which is actually surprising considering how much I adore “Time Bomb” by Rancid. In fact, I might even hold ska punk in a higher regard than a lot of pop punk from the same time, a genre I will admit I avoided in the early 2000s, though not as hard as I did pop emo a few years later. Now, it doesn’t take much to realize this record came well after LTJ’s heyday, but that also made this album extremely interesting. There’s something about a late career record, released years or decades after the peak of a career, that’s appealing to me. Keeping things in the ska family, I fawned over Madness late career triumph The Liberty Of Norton Folgate back in 2009, mostly because it seemed that the band was creatively flourishing under less expectations, from both a commercial and critical aspect. I get the same feeling here as LTJ seems to really push back on the “ska” aspect of ska punk. The horns are definitely still there though, vastly improving songs like “Abandon Ship,” but there’s a lot more aggression in the guitars, as heard in the second track “The State Of Florida,” as opposed to the usual up-down rhythm of ska. It gives the music a scathing slant, which feels genuine since it’s about where they live. Yes, hometown pride is important, but no place is perfect. Recognizing and discussing the faults of your hometown is the best way to enact change and ultimately make it a better place, a thought I wish people in my hometown would embrace instead of just blindly putting a bumper sticker on their car. And there’s the beauty of GNV FLA, a ska punk record that makes you reexamine your own hometown and your place in it, which is more than any other ska punk or pop punk record ever did in my life.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Fabulous Notes And Beats Of The Indian Carnatic-Jazz by T.K. Ramamoorthy
Chosen By Laura Burroughs

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Carly Green, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Melissa Koch, David Munro, Drew Necci, & Jeremy Shatan

Logo By Matt Klimas


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