REVIEW: Less Than Jake – “Sound The Alarm”

ltjsta

It’s been about four months since I wrote about any record. I’m coming back with an easy one. Less Than Jake is one of my favorite bands. They have been since I was a teenager. It was Less Than Jake and the Bouncing Souls forever. Like, I’ve forgotten a lot of things over the years. The lyrics to every Less Than Jake record up to and including GNV FLA are still burned in my brain though. I definitely got away from this band after that. I never really listened to either of the Greetings EPs or See The Light very much. They were great records. I was busy reviewing every fucking emo revival record, or whatever.

There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to Less Than Jake. They are a band of veterans who know exactly where their proverbial bread is buttered. It’s why, in 2017, I can still put on any of their records and know I’m going to enjoy it. Is it predictability? Definitely. Could that be viewed as a negative thing? Absolutely. Not by me though, because I still love this goddamn band.

Sound The Alarm is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s an EP full of poppy songs with oddly bummer lyrics. Sound The Alarm would him every point if there was a template for a Less Than Jake record. “Call To Arms” is the classic punk with horns opener. Compared to their discography, it is probably the most Anthem-y. “Welcome To My Life” and “Years Of Living Dangerously” hit the laid back ska vibe. Both songs deal with friendships and relationships in different ways. The former being apologetic, the latter hits on the classic, reminiscent theme the band often uses. “Thing Change” is the strongest song on the record. It closes the record with the most Less Than Jake song they’ve recorded in years. Fast verses, great horn line, and a huge chorus.

It’s not really easy to write about Less Than Jake objectively. This band is wildly important to me, and I’m definitely willing to overlook things other people maybe won’t. Nostalgia is a hell of thing. Anything this band does is going to remind me of something I’ve done while listening to them. “Bomb Drop” makes reminds me of driving in a blizzard while listening to Borders And Boundaries. “Years Of Living Dangerously” reminds me of being sad and drunk while listening to B Is For B-Sides.

It’s a fucking Less Than Jake record. You know what it is. Don’t overthink it. It’s good, and it is another strong release in this band’s discography. I know everyone is going to try and compare it Hello Rockview or Losing Streak. Don’t do that. Just let it play. You’ll like it.

Less Than Jake
Pure Noise Records
Bandcamp
Buy It

 

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Digging Through the Compilation Shelf.

compgridCompilations were a fucking way of life. They were the best route to find new bands. They were around long before the internet was THE INTERNET. They were around long before Spotify, BandCamp, SoundCloud, and other services made it easy to “try before you buy.” They’re things that don’t really happen anymore. One part is because of the internet. Another is the overall decline of brick and mortar record stores. They’re not financially viable to manufacture and distribute anymore, and it’s kind of bummer.

Without pulling the shitty “back in my day” card, the decline of record stores and readily available physical products has been the biggest change in music that I’ve seen. I’m old enough to remember a time before file sharing, iTunes, and web commerce as a viable option for music existed. Small record labels, if they had websites at all, still lived on mailorder. You printed out a form, mailed them a money order or some shit, and waited. Oh, how you waited. It wasn’t the most conducive way to discover music. You could read liner notes, but if bands didn’t thank any other bands it was a no-go. So you turned to local record store, and their “compilation” section.

I’ve always been broke. That definitely made it hard for me to discover new bands in my teenage years. I couldn’t afford to buy albums all the time, and it had to be worth it if I was going to drop the $16 at Tower Records. So I always dug through the compilations. At around $2 a pop, they were the best things in the world. If i was curious about some new band on Lookout! Records or something, just go grab their most recent one. Same with Asian Man, Epitaph, Fat Wreck, Go Kart, Matador, Hopeless, BYO, Vagrant, Deep Elm, and so on et cetera. You’d get to hear that new band you were wondering about, and probably some unreleased song from a band you liked already. How could you go wrong?

The first compilation cd I ever bought was probably Mailorder Is Still Fun. As I touched on in another thing, Asian Man Records was my jam. I was mail ordering a bunch of records, and decided to get this compilation. As a teenage ska fan, it was the best I could have hoped for. Slow Gherkin, Less Than Jake, The Chinkees, and MU330 were all on it. Through that compilation I got introduced to Korea Girl, who I still believe to be one of the most criminally underrated indie rock bands in the world. I heard Alkaline Trio and The Broadways for the first time. 16 year old me was stoked. And that compilation was already 2 years old by the time I bought it.

It all spiraled from there. The first time I heard Camber, Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Brandtson was on Deep Elm Sampler #3 (Sound Spirit Fury Fire). The first time I heard The Mr. T Experience, Bratmobile, and Common Rider was on Lookout! Freakout Episode 2. And Hopelessly Devoted To You Vol. 3 was where I first heard Dillinger Four, The Queers, and The Weakerthans (it also sparked me into buying one of my all time favorite records, Left And Leaving). Marc’s A Dick And Gar’s A Drunk: The Johann’s Face Story is where I first heard the Traitors and No Empathy. What I’m saying is that compilations were always important to me. In that spirit, I wanted to make a quick list of my favorite compilations. I’ve linked them to their respective page on Discogs. In no particular order.

Honorable mentions go to Short Music For Short People and Fat Music Volume 5: Live Fat, Die Young (both Fat Wreck Chords). The former for absolutely fucking nailing the gimmick. The latter for having one of my favorite Propagandhi songs.

If this kind of stuff had a resurgence, I’d be right there ready to go.

Misfits Of Ska

Sorry I missed a review this last week. I have one coming up in the next few days. To make up for that, here is a thing I wrote about Skankin’ Pickle over on my Tumblr:

One year in high school I ended up having two art classes and a math class with this cute girl who listened to great music. I tried so hard to be cool in front of her. Which was difficult for a fat dude in a Rancid t-shirt. We’d talk about The Brady Bunch, starting a cult, how creepy Patrick Duffy (not the actor) was. Obviously we would also talk about music. Like how great Operation Ivy was, or how Pinkerton was the best Weezer album. I was still a little shit, but I knew about enough punk and ska bands to hold my own.

I think we were talking about the Suicide Machines or something. Somehow we got on the topic of Skankin’ Pickle. She asked if I’d heard of them. I totally hadn’t. But, not wanting to look like a total dummy, I said “oh yeah of course.” I totally lied, but had gotten away with it.

A few weeks later I was on my way to school. My car wasn’t working, I missed the bus, it was winter, and I was running late. It was a classic four alarm clusterfuck. About 10 minutes into a half hour walk to school a car pulls over. It was the girl from my classes. I get in the car and “Skatanic” by Reel Big Fish had just finished playing. Then I hear a guy talking briefly about whether they got “Degrassi Junior High” in Petaluma. The band then goes into the beginning “O Canada,” and then it then tore into this quick ska-punk song.

It’s so damn catchy. I ask who it was. She just kind of looks at me and said “Skankin’ Pickle,” like I had just asked the dumbest question ever. Here I was, after saying I knew who that band was (and how much I liked them), asking who sings one of their MOST WELL KNOW SONGS. What a dummy. The song was “I’m In Love With A Girl Named Spike.” The record was Misfits Of Ska.

That day I learned to never pretend to know about bands that you really don’t. You just end up looking like a dummy. This situation also birthed my undying love of all things Asian Man Records and bands featuring Mike Park.

REVIEW: Streetlight Manifesto – 99 Songs Of Revolution (Volume 1)

Alright, I said I would review this. So, you know, here it is.

Streetlight Manifesto is a great band. I have seen them live a bunch of times, and they always brought their A game. Shit, I remember them doing a Mephiskapheles cover once. But, man, they are like the fucking Chicago Cubs of third wave ska. In that, I mean, they have a dedicated fanbase, even though they can not seem to deliver.

To run with that metaphor, Everything Goes Numb was great. It is, to Streetlight fans, like the 1908 World Series is to Cubs fans. It was a shining achievement. That record came out in 2003. Not counting the rerecording of Keasby Nights in 2006, their next proper full length did not come out until 2007. And, after a four year gap between it and Everything Goes Numb, Somewhere In The Between had an underwhelming ten tracks. So, If Everything Goes Numb was like the 1908 Cubs, Somewhere In The Between is like the 2003 Cubs. As little as five games away from the World Series, but could not fucking get there.

Alright, all shitty metaphors aside, this record kind of sucks. Musically, it sounds pretty good. This is a band of skilled musicians. They are, if nothing, consistent when it comes to music. However, it is dragged down by being a fucking record full of cover songs. They cover material from punk bands like the Dead Milkmen, Bad Religion, and NOFX. They cover some pop and rock stuff from Paul Simon and The Cyrkle. And, they do a pretty on the nose cover of “Hell” by Squirrel Nut Zippers. Then, to make it even worse, they did a version of a fucking Bandits Of The Acoustic Revolution song. Yes, I know that is Tomas’ other band. And, yes, I know that Everything Goes Numb also had a BOTAR cover. But, this time it just seems gratuitous.

Anyway, their cover of “Linoleum” is basically a slowed down, reggae-ish song. Does it stand up to the original? Well, no. That song was meant to be a fast song. That song needs Fat Mike’s voice. The same thing goes for “Skyscraper.” Except switch Fat Mike to Greg Graffin and NOFX to Bad Religion. Otherwise, the covers are pretty much ehhh. They sound exactly like what you think Streetlight covering those songs would sound like.

The only song on here I am even remotely stoked on is the cover of the Dead Milkmen classic “Punk Rock Girl.” That song is a fun song, so even being surrounded by schlock, it will always stand out. But, that is more of a statement on the song versus the band. The Paul Simon cover of “Me And Julio Down By The School Yard” is pretty good too, I guess.

Probably the most talked about cover on this whole album is a cover of “At Such Great Heights.” When I first heard it, I was excited. I mean, I really like The Postal Service, and I like Streetlight. This should have been great. The synth parts done by the horn section DID sound pretty rad. But, just making the song another generic third wave ska song kind of sucks. Plus, as that one  guy on Punknews says, the band Tip The Van was covering this song for a long time. Including on the tour where they opened for Streetlight. So, there is that implied drama that I can not even be bothered to mention beyond that.

All in all, this album was disappointing. It was basically a bunch of songs made to sound like any other Streetlight song. Was anyone really clamoring for a ska version of a Radiohead song? Especially since there is a version of the same song (“Just”) done by The Arrogant Sons Of Bitches readily available at the Quote Unquote Website. 

I am not even going to rate this. Anyone who likes Streetlight probably already bought this. This thing charted at #140 on the Billboard 200. This record will be the new Modified by Save Ferris. By that, I mean, look for it at used CD shops everywhere. The smart money says that is where it will end up.

Buy it here (if you dare)
Information about this album, and the whole 99 song project @ Wikipedia