This past Friday Keith and I received a text from Jon asking us to list, in order, our top 3 Less Than Jake albums. Because my mind just constantly makes lists like this I wasted no time answering with Anthem, Borders and Boundaries, and GNV FLA. Keith’s answers were Hello Rockview, Anthem, and GNV FLA. Jon was struggling with his answer, which I think is why he asked, but eventually came up with Hello Rockview, Borders and Boundaries, and Anthem.
Jon was surprised by the lack of Hello Rockview on my list, and that both Keith and I have GNV FLA, an album “that does nothing for him.” So of course I dwelled on this all weekend long and came to some realizations.
Anthem, to me, is Less Than Jake’s most complete album, from start to finish it stays strong. I have much more to say on this at a later date. Borders and Boundaries demonstrates a quality level I didn’t think Less Than Jake was capable of, as well as being the record that got me into them, but more on that in just a bit.
Let’s take a closer look on the album that 2 out of 3 (not accurate statistics) fans really enjoy, GNV FLA. Now I can’t speak for Keith, well I did that one time but I have to put on his glasses to do so, so everything that follows is why this album made my top 3.
There was something I used to subconsciously do, I’m aware of it now so hopefully I have stopped. When a band I loved released an album I didn’t think was good or up to the quality I expect from that band I would not only not want to listen to that album, but would end up snubbing all the music from the band. It’s like when you break up with someone, you focus so much on the latest wrongdoing that you ignore all the past awesomeness. Basically when Less Than Jake released In With the Out Crowd I was so disappointed they basically became dead to me. I stopped listening to any of their albums, even ones that used to find their way to heavy rotation. I have also done this with Zebrahead and most recently Rise Against, however I was more aware of this happening with Rise Against, which is why I think I have stopped this pettiness that hurts only me.
GNV FLA was Less Than Jake’s first release after In With the Out Crowd, so I was apprehensive. Once bit, twice shy sort of thing. I was worried that Out Crowd was going to be the new standard for this band that I once loved so very much. GNV FLA was not like Out Crowd, it was Less Than Jake going back to their old ways, yet not totally. That was the other thing that I really liked, it felt like they were taking the next step in their growth as musicians and as people.
There are elements of that happening in each of their records, but I think it is the most drastic in GNV FLA and Losing Streak. For me GNV FLA is in my top 3 over Losing Streak because it taps into what is good about Losing Streak, Rockview, Borders, and Anthem while moving onto the next thing and Losing Streak lacks the benefits of having great previous records, but it still taps into the next thing.
The next question that I need to answer is why Hello Rockview didn’t crack the top 3. It has very little, if nothing to do with the actual quality of the record, because it is fantastic. It’s definitely number four on my list. It is a much more irrational reason, but it’s something I think holds a lot of water and feel verified in this idea when Jon explained why he hated a song so much.
As much as the quality of an album, or any media, plays a role in why we like it or hate it, we also have connections that influence the enjoyment level. For instance, there’s probably a song that you know is awful, but because you heard it on the first date with your wife, or because your dad used to sing it you love it. The quality of the song is overridden by the memory you have associated with it. This also works the other way, meaning good art can be marred by a bad association. That’s where Hello Rockview fits with me.
Like many people, I spent my high school years filled with angst. In doing so, I found punk rock made for a nice soundtrack. But in this angst haze (the name of my next punk album, you know once I start a punk band) I saw ska as the antithesis of punk rock, rather than the cousin it actually is. And Less Than Jake’s “Dopeman” was the absolute low end of what ska could be. With its up-tempo, happy sounding horns it had nothing I ever wanted to hear in music. I still hate that song to this day. This song can be found on Losing Streak and it was what we could call their “hit”. It has a video that actually got play on MTV. For the longest time it was the only Less Than Jake song I had heard, and because of this and because I had a fairly closed mind, at least musically, in high school I hated Less Than Jake.
So when Hello Rockview came out I made the assumption it was all shitty songs like “Dopeman.” That in combination with this obnoxious kid in my art class who wore a Hello Rockview t-shirt, I created a poor association with the album. I did that without ever hearing it. When I finally did get around to actually listening to it, I learned that is in fact an excellent record. But I already had that terrible association, and I developed a new one of shame that came with not giving it a chance sooner. Hello Rockview didn’t crack the top 3 not because it sucks, but because of memories.
It’s no coincidence that this blog is named for a song, or that a good portion of the posts are about music. Albums and songs are more than just music to me. They exist as an index to my past, and for that I will sing along forever, and I don’t need anyone to sing with me.