15) A Still-Life Franchise – In With the Out Crowd
I was probably 11 years old when I first heard “History of a Boring Town” on WBER, Rochester’s college-rock radio station. I didn’t really appreciate it now, but having a resource like that was huge for me developing the interests in art that I have now. Being able to hear Camper Von Beethoven and Ben Lee and Blue Clocks Green and the Revolting Cocks and Modest Mouse, while still jamming out to the gut-rock that my brother’s CDs and football practice afforded me … well, let’s just say I probably wouldn’t like Think Lizzy as much otherwise.
14) Mostly Memories – In With the Out Crowd
I loved “History of a Boring Town” the minute I heard it. I was way too young to have nostalgia for anything, but the song’s sense of regret and time’s movement struck me. I liked where I lived just fine, but when I heard that song, I was filled with feelings I didn’t really understand. It made me want to jump around, bang my head, and get the fuck out of the one-horse town I loved when I wasn’t listening to Hello Rockview.
13) The Science of Selling Yourself Short – Anthem
I don’t know for sure when I realized Less Than Jake was my favorite band. I think it was early in high school. I remember that I had caught up on the band’s back catalog, and I can remember being old enough to be both exited, then let down, then excited again when Borders and Boundaries came out.
12) Conviction Notice – GNV FLA
Jesus, Boarders and Boundaries. I was a freshman in high school when that album came out; old enough to have a favorite band, old enough to have a favorite record label, old enough to be excited when I found out the two were working together. I remember being disappointed in the record when it came out. WBER had been playing “Look What Happened” regularly, and I liked that song well enough, but the album’s reduction in horns rubbed me the wrong way.
11) Short Fuse Burning – Anthem
I was further bummed out by Anthem, at least at first. At this point, Less Than Jake was probably not my favorite band anymore. I had a girlfriend, and she liked Moxy Fruvis and Garrison Keillor, so I had less time for pop-punk-ska. I can remember being bummed about Anthem, and thinking it made Borders and Boundaries better in retrospect.
10) The State of Florida – GNV FLA
That’s actually a common theme with my relationship to Less Than Jake. Every new album that would come out, I would be slightly less excited for it, slightly more appreciative of what had come before. I used to sit on the back of the bus with my disc man, spinning Borders and Boundaries on my 45-minute ride home. Those last three tracks especially were like a little dramatic high school morality play for me. “The Last Hour of the Last Day of Work” was my inferiority manifested, “Bigger Picture” was my internal freakouts given true form and “Fraction” was my final defeat. Those last 10 minutes are the most up-beat pity party I’ve ever had.
9) Last Hour of the Last Day of Work – Borders and Boundaries
Even though I was moping around like a teenage dirt bag, that betrays what Less Than Jake has always excelled at; embracing personal failure while remaining a positive outlook. When the band acknowledges that “sometimes you just want to belong / at any loss or any cost,” it is as much an admission of frailty as it is a defiance of it. The band’s best songs are victories, wrapped up as losses. That’s a hell of a skill, and I’m hard-pressed to think of another band that does it as well as they do. They occasionally keep their heads in the past too much, but that’s quite the criticism from the guy who just started the last 20 sentences of his blog about his childhood past with “I.”
8) Automatic – Losing Streak
I was old enough, when Anthem came out, to be happy that the band was getting some mainstream radio play. The alternative station in town would play “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” (WBER, god bless them, would play “Welcome to the New South,” because it’s a ride-or-die station). The band was on MTV. They were still playing Water Street Music Hall, but they’d get better billing at The Warped Tour. I had reached the point in my fandom where I was happy for their success above all else.
7) Scott Farcas Takes it on the Chin – Hello Rockview
I’m being a shitty about Anthem, but its highs are pretty damn high. “The Science of Selling Yourself Short” almost launched a fourth-wave ska movement (at least in Rochester). “Short Fuse Burning” is a slick piece of glam-punk that is about as guitar hero-y as the band ever got. “Welcome to the New South” and “The Ghosts of Me and You” are textbook Less than Jake cocktail of pathos and hope. The album has some scorchers, but the middles are too forgettable, too removed from the hits. I like it a lot, but its the first album I can’t play all the way through.
6) Liquor Store – Pezcore
I’ve wanted some shitty tattoos in my life. Getting “My American Dream is to have it / a little bit better than my parent’s ever had it,” the key line from “National Anthem” might be one of them. I’m almost 30 and I still think about that line I heard when I was 18, so I think maybe it isn’t.
5) National Anthem – B is for B-Side
By the time In With the Out Crowd came out, I Less than Jake was not a key part of my musical life anymore. I don’t have a ton to say about this album beyond this: I wrote a pretty scathing review of this album on my old blog, Left of the Dial. My little brother John sent that review to the band, and one of them wrote back telling me, essentially, to not be such a dick. I am certain I was being a dick, as certain as I am that this album falls well outside the band’s strengths. I’m too old for conversations about selling out, but if you wanted to point to this as a sell out record, it would not be hard to find someone to agree with you.
4) My Very Own Flag – Pezcore
By the time In With the Out Crowd came out, Less than Jake was not a key part of my musical life anymore. I don’t have a ton to say about this album beyond this: I wrote a pretty scathing review of this album on my old blog, Left of the Dial. My little brother John sent that review to the band, and one of them wrote back telling me, essentially, to not be such a dick. I am certain I was being a dick, as certain as I am that this album falls well outside the band’s strengths. I’m too old for conversations about selling out, but if you wanted to point to this as a sell out record, it would not be hard to find someone to agree with you.
3) Rock-n-Roll Pizzeria – Losing Streak
Because I have always been terrible, I didn’t like GNV FLA when it first came out. I thought it was pander to wash the bad taste of In With the Out Crowd out of fans mouths. I don’t learn from my mistakes.
2) Gainsville Rock City – Borders and Boundaries
GNV FLA is just about where I got out with the band. They released a new album, on Fat Wreck again, called See the Light. I’ll listen to it someday. I’ll bet I like it.
1) History of a Boring Town – Hello Rockview
Music being what it is now, I’m certain I’ll never completely stop listening to the band, even if I continue to grow further from it, they way I have from all things I cared about in High School. I will have a child someday and, if that child feels beleaguered, I hope that child finds “History of a Boring Town.” I hope my kid discovers the band’s world, all its songs about things lost, things gains, defeats that feel like victories, sorrows made less painful through companionship; all these big, sustaining issues, boiled down and delivered in a way that is palatable, relateable, for someone going through puberty. Less than Jake tackles adult problems and turns them into songs for kids. That’s beautiful, if not a little tragic.
“History of a Boring Town” still sounds amazing.
*Real quick – These songs measured by selecting the second- and first-best songs off the band’s seven studio albums and the best song off 2004’s B is for B-Side. I didn’t include anything off their other b-sides and comp records, or 2013’s See the Light for that matter, because I haven’t heard them enough to make a judgment. The inclusion of songs from In With the Out Crowd is somewhat dubious, especially because I’d rather listen to the worst songs off the band’s other albums than listen to nearly ANYTHING off that record, but them’s the breaks. I’m a puzzle like that. Also, all lists are meaningless and wrong, especially this one.