It seems to me than certain songwriters have a knack for opening tracks. The most obvious example to my mind is Tim Armstrong of Rancid. To take the opening tracks of their last three releases – ‘Back Where I Belong’, ‘East Bay Night’, ‘Indestructible’ – each one not only speaks to shared themes of resilience and the power of music; but furthermore lets the listener know that this record is unmistakenly a Rancid record.
This trait is also present in Sound the Alarm, the latest release by Gainesville Rock City’s Less Than Jake, which dropped on 3rd February 2017 – albeit with a twist. Lyrically, it picks up where the final track, ‘Weekends All Year Long’, off their previous full-length, See the Light (2013), left off.
I pushed back out, I’ve been pulled away
Don’t have what it takes for me to face another day
This constant battle never helps
I see my reflection I don’t recognise myself
The twist, meanwhile, comes with the very first musical notes. It’s not that LTJ have never opened with Roger’s bass before – think: ‘Last One Out of Liberty City’ (Hello Rockview, 1998), ‘Short on Ideas’ (Pezcore, 1995), ‘ASAOK’ (B is for B-Sides, 2004), ‘Look What Happened’ (Borders & Boundaries, 2000), ‘Pez King’ (Losers, Kings and Things We Don’t Understand, 1995) – but that the notes themselves speak more to Rancid than Less Than Jake. Quickly though, we’re greeted with toms and guitar, and before long the first track, ‘Call to Arms’, has broken out into a familiar punky sound – Chris on vocals – with a ridiculously catchy half-time chorus that sets the EP up nicely.
The seven tracks that comprise Sound the Alarm alternate between mid-tempo ska-punk and slower reggae numbers. Thus, the second track is one of the latter and my favourite song on the record. I have always loved Chris’ voice, but the three reggae cuts here – ‘Whatever the Weather’, ‘Welcome to My Life’, ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ – lead me to conclude that Roger taking lead vocal duty atop a slow reggae vibe is one of the strongest sounds the band produces.* Thrown together, the first couple of this trio inescapably recalls the ‘American Idol’ B-side, ‘Late Night Petroleum’, released in 2015 – which again featured Roger in lead. Returning to ‘Whatever the Weather’, meanwhile, its lyrics, as crop up now and again in drummer Vinnie’s words, are positive exclamations of a headstrong narrator in the face of life’s challenges.
It’s out of my hands
these too heavy times
No matter the weather
I’ll never waver
The third track, ‘Bomb Drop’, is the first single off the record; and was to me, at first, a curious song about which I was uncertain. To my ever-wandering ear, the opening chords and Roger’s chorus make it feel like something off of Bodyjar’s How It Works (2000), whilst the brass is distinctly LTJ – so distinct, in fact, that it is acutely similar to the brass on GNV FLA‘s (2008) ‘Conviction Notice’. It didn’t grab me at first; but has slowly grown on me and, on Friday 17th, Chris and Roger performed three short acoustic sets across New York, all of which featured this song with JR on tenor sax. These renditions are quite wonderful, and solidify it’s rightful place as lead single. (Watch one of these here.)
The second reggae number, ‘Welcome to My Life’, features Vinnie’s characteristically downbeat lyrics of an all-too familiar hopeless case.
Sorry it’s almost automatic
I mean well but I lose it in the static
Big plans but they always go up in smoke
Nevertheless, the slow vibe makes it rather infectious and a particularly strong cut.
The fifth track, ‘Good Sign’ is, in my opinion, a superb contender for a single. With an opening reminiscent of the old Millencolin tune, ‘Bullion’ (Life on a Plate, 1996), it is another song with a positive message.
We were the first to say
Let’s throw it all away
But now we’re fighting through
the doom and gloom
Very simply, it’s difficult to resist singing along.
The penultimate song on the record, ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ has three boasts: it is the final reggae number on the record; it has an excellent title; and it is one of the best songs the band has ever written. That being the case, I won’t comment much on it – except to say that it is pure gold.
The last song on the album is a perfect closer, not too dissimilar to the previously-mentioned closer on See the Light (‘Weekends All Year Long’): fast ska with an irresistible horn part and a dash of pessimism; all to let you know – as did the opener – that this is classic LTJ. Like the aforementioned, Chris delivers verses whilst Roger takes the chorus; and as with his “na na nas” in Borders & Boundaries’ ‘Pete Jackson is Getting Married’, Roger here gives us some high-pitched “whoas” which, like in ‘Pete Jackson’, are the icing on the cake, rounding off the record brilliantly.
Sound the Alarm has been out now for just over two weeks, and I planned to review it the day after it came out. This post is, then, way overdue. And it is overdue for one very simple reason: I couldn’t stop listening to it. How could I spend time writing about it when I could simply be singing along over and over and over again – as indeed, I have been: I’ve probably listened to it around twenty times now. The thing is, ‘Call to Arms’ is such a catchy, classic opener than once you’ve started, you want to keep listening through to your favourite track(s). And once you’ve reached the end, you want to listen all over again.
I am now even more excited to see Less Than Jake at Slam Dunk this year. And I’ll be listening to this EP all the way up to that date and beyond. You should too.
* Sound the Alarm was, incidentally, produced by Roger at his studio, The Moathouse.