Album Review: Less Than Jake “Greetings and Salutations”

Hailing from Gainesville, Fla., Less Than Jake have been at it for two decades, and despite a few minor changes to the horn section, they have always had the same core lineup. The result is that they are clearly very comfortable in their own skin. They know where their strengths lie, and they have never been accused of being over ambitious. Pop punk with brass and ska rhythms aren’t the most complicated of punk rock conventions, so with “Greetings and Salutations,” the band sticks closely to their guns.

The album opens with “The New Auld Lang Syne,” throwing everything fans expect into the mix. It is rounded out by a singalong chorus that declares “do your worst/I’ll survive another year,” acting as a mission statement for the rest of the record. Less Than Jake have always been about anthems of small town life, and escaping to bigger, better things. Their previous album, “GNV FLA,” was seen as a return to form, and this new release uses it as a foundation for a solid progression forward. The songs are catchier, and at times, the brass resembles the more relaxed tones it took on during 2000’s “Borders and Boundaries.” Everyone gets a chance to shine on this album in some way or another.

The biggest problem with the record is that while the tracks are great individually, they don’t work as well in the concept of a full length record. Despite the attempts to assemble it as a single studio LP, the songs still feel like a pair of EPs mixed up and arranged into an album sequence.  Fans of the band will recognize the majority of the tracks from the two EPs released late last year, and earlier this spring, along with a pair of leftover tracks from the recording sessions. That’s not to say this is a bad release, because it isn’t. Both EPs of material are excellent, standing up with some of the best material the band has ever released, though it’s obvious to see why the other two tracks were initially left out. While not immediately up to par to the rest of the release, both “Flag Holders Union” and “View From the Middle” stand as nice, uptempo pop punk numbers that get better from repeated listens.

“Can’t Yell Any Louder,” formerly the opening track from the earlier EP, stands defiantly with it’s chorus of “I tell myself tonight is mine/so I’ll hold my head up high/I’m never moving backwards/I don’t think I can yell any louder,” and Less Than Jake forges onward, hopefully for another twenty years. It’s been a busy anniversary for the band so far, and they seem determined to do it all again.

My Undying Love for Less Than Jake

In the last ten years, my tastes in music have rapidly changed. I’ve expanded and gone off on weird genre tangents, ranging from Japanese post-rock to the greatest offerings east coast hip-hop had to give me. Every day I’m finding new bands to dig into. I’m always looking for something new to keep me going, and most of all, keep me interested. In high school, this really wasn’t the case.

Around 2000, I finally started developing what I considered a taste in music, or at least something that I could associate myself with. I fell into punk rock, and it really defined a lot of my high school experience. I found myself interested in all of these bands that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 introduced me to, and as I’ve said before, that game really lit a fire under my ass. Music finally meant something to me. I digested all I could find, and to be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of those bands all that much anymore. Less Than Jake has never been one of those bands. I love them more today than I ever did when I was a teenager. I think this is due to a lot of the songs making a lot more sense to me now than they did back then.

The first time I even heard this band, I didn’t know what to expect. Ska-punk was a new genre to me, something I didn’t yet understand. Their most recent album at the time was 2000’s Borders and Boundaries, an album somewhat removed from the sound they are typically associated with. I was wasting time on the internet, looking up bands, and I knew people on IRC who were into this “ska band,” so I decided to give them a look. The first song I heard was a track from Borders and Boundaries called “Kehoe,” and I think I fell in love in an instant.

I was initially thrown off by the horn section, but I quickly got over it. It was that first verse that said everything I really need to know about life at the time.

Ideals are like opinions, beliefs just like tradition 
Sometimes both are not enough.
Faded stickers and crumpled flyers, 
They’ve become the reminder that there’s an anthem in us
That fits the flag we’ve flown for years.

Now, over years I’ve learned that Less Than Jake really don’t sing about a lot of different topics. The majority of their songs are about living in a shitty situation and making the claim to better yourself and get out of that terrible hole you’ve sunk into. It never mattered to me. I’m 26 years old, and I still feel this way every day of my life. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I’m doing all I can to survive from day to day. Their songs still mean the world to me, and instilled the belief within me to just be myself. It’s exactly what I needed to hear.

I can still recall going to the mall one evening and picking up their Losing Streak and Hello Rockview albums. I would pick up Borders and Boundaries a few weeks later, and would eventually pick up the rest of their primary discography. I was hooked, and I needed to hear everything I could. I finally got to see them live in 2003, and since then I’ve seen them about ten times. This is a band that helped me become who I am, and helped give me hope during the worst days of my life. I wrote their lyrics in my school notebooks and quoted them frequently in my old Livejournal.

I found out fairly early on that the lyrics were all written by drummer, Vinnie Fiorello. He never struck me as a very impressive drummer, but I found solace in his words. Even as their songs treaded over similar themes, they always seemed to find a way to keep it sounding fresh. I read interviews with him where he was asked about how he wrote his lyrics, and he mentioned that he would write individual lines on everything from napkins to post-it notes, and he kept them in a shoebox. He would assemble similar lines together into stanzas, and hand them off to guitarist Chris Demakes and bassist Roger Manganelli. This method always seemed to work for them, but as they’ve grown as a band I can see Vinnie’s lyrics take a slightly more straightforward, less fractured structure to them.

They are set to release their next album tomorrow (or January for a physical copy), which is comprised of a pair of EPs released earlier this year and late 2011, along with a pair of unreleased tracks to top it off. The songs have been arranged into an album, and having heard ten of the twelve tracks, I really feel like this is some of the strongest material they’ve released in years. For a band that’s been around for twenty years, they keep on doing what they do, and they are still very good at it. Not only are they releasing this album, but they are also planning on releasing a full length album of new material next year! I’m really excited about this, and despite missing their show nearly a month ago, I’m making it a point not to miss them the next time they come around.

I may have gotten into a lot of odd music over the last few years, dabbling in noise rock and bizarre ambient experiments, but I will always love this band.