Having kept the ska-punk flag flying for the best part of 30 years, Less Than Jake have carved out a career as being a live standout for festivals all over the place – and in a year that has been filled with doom and gloom, the Gainesville brass-filled collective have returned to offer a bright end to a turbulent year.
‘Silver Linings’ – the band’s ninth full-length album – marks a new beginning for the quintet, following the departure of chief songwriter and founding drummer Vinnie Fiorello. The 12 songs on offer here are, however, still Less Than Jake at their core. Early tracks such as ‘Lie To Me’ and ‘Keep On Chasing’ are delivered with an abundance of energy and familiarity, while ‘The High Cost of Low Living’ has all the traits you come to expect from a LTJ number – buoyant horns, sharp guitars, and a positive, punk energy.
LTJ play to their strengths throughout the album; ‘The Test’ radiates light through Chris DeMakes and Roger Lima’s catchy and sincere melodies, with ‘Dear Me’ forming a fast-paced sonic ball of infectious punk rock that continues the earnest lyrical tone, revealing Lima in a reflective mood about loss and distanced friends. For the most part, ‘Silver Linings’ doesn’t offer much to pick apart lyrically but nevertheless, the personal trials and tribulations they loosely touch upon are overcome by LTJ’s power of positivity. Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is penultimate track, ‘Bill’, where the band pay tribute to punk legend Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag) in a three minute, celebratory blast that flourishes with expected urgency.
That aforementioned familiarity that this record harnesses is also, occasionally, a hindrance. For casual listeners, ‘Silver Linings’ doesn’t offer much that can’t be found on any of its predecessors and although LTJ aren’t a band anyone expects to be experimental, songs such as ‘Anytime and Anywhere’ and ‘Move’ fail to leave a lasting impression. ‘King of the Downside’, on the other hand, offers some variety with a hint of chugging guitars battling against brass bursts, while ‘Lost At Home’ pulls back the tempo with its laid back ska-heavy pacing, allowing DeMakes and Lima’s carefree words to become the focal point: “Maybe that’s just life, that’s what they say”.
Throughout, new drummer, Matt Yonker adds to the urgency with a more dynamic and gritty performance. He’s a driving force, especially on songs such as ‘Monkey Wrench Myself’ and ‘King of the Downside’, while saxophonist Peter “JR” Wasilewski and trombone player Buddy “Goldfinger” Schaub are as reliable as ever in the brass department.
If you’re after classic Less Than Jake brass-tinged punk rock, ‘Silver Linings’ ticks all the right boxes. If you’re expecting something all-new, you’re likely going to be disappointed – there are hints of a revitalised band, yet one that still rely heavily on familiar traits. Nonetheless, there’s enough fresh arsenal here to be added to any LTJ festival-pleasing set.