City of Gainesville/State of Florida * Less Than Jake * GNV FLA * 2008
This is not a late-90s nostalgia post. Yes, I remember the third-wave ska fad that started with the likes of The Aquabats and Reel Big Fish. I bought in hard. But this isn’t about that. Rather, I am going to take a brief moment to point out a common misconception. This kind of music, by these kind of bands, is super fun. They are not, however, fun songs (with the obvious exception of The Aquabats). Like any other punk band, these bands wrote angry songs about disillusionment and futility. The subjects these bands were writing about, set to upbeat punk riffs punctuated by a bright, brassy horn section, tended toward personal angst and unfocused anger. You know, punk.
Less Than Jake, for all their outwardly doofiness, aimed a little higher lyrically. Now I’ll admit that early on there are some straight up cringeworthy songs. Yet for that, they were still focusing on subjects of disenfranchisement and small-town decay. Buried underneath the high-energy music was a thoughtful examination of how unfulfilling and sterile the fucking suburbs are.
This brings us to a pair of songs that are from one of LTJ’s later albums. Prior to the release of GNV FLA, Less Than Jake were pretty much done as far as I was concerned. Their previous record was a limp attempt to latch onto some kind of popular momentum way too late to profit from early-2000’s pop-punk trend. They ditched the horns and their identity. I don’t know if they lost the tread lyrically as well, because I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it more than once. Imagine how happy I was when I first heard these two songs which lead off, in my humble opinion, their second best record (Hello Rockview being their best, obviously).
It’s a nice, mellow intro about a futile, aimless life in the small city of Gainesville, Florida. What I like about is that it’s not overly angsty. It’s not a hand-wringing, mumbly-mouthed whiney kind of song. Nah, it just is what it is. There’s almost a positive vibe to it. Like, yeah, I’m drunk all day on this porch and haven’t actually done anything with my life, but one of these days….
Then we launch directly into “The State of Florida,” which unfortunately I can’t really recreate here because you’re gonna have to watch a Hotwire.com ad or something before you can listen to this, which means that nobody will, but whatever! Unlike “City of Gainesville,” this song is pissed right the fuck off. It is also about, of all things, urban decay. Look at the date of release, 2008, and then get a load of this verse:
Between the garbage and the concrete, to the construction grounds under our feet.
A boomtown gone bust, a goldmine to dust that’s disintegrating
Where latch key kids from divorces, transplants and the foreign tourists fill up vacation
Spots turned to trailer parks cause this state is fading.
There is a very real, ever-present, and palpable sense of loss and decline in virtually every segment of American society. “The State of Florida” is just a perfect expression of this rage and frustration. It’s the disconnect between our American expectations of being the greatest society in the history of man and the harsh reality of life in south Florida as the real estate boom implodes. Or eastern Oregon ranchers being unable to reconcile their inability to make a living on their father’s ranch. Or the children of West Virginian coal miners suddenly being without prospects because the bottom fell out of their industry. This song is about a specific place in the country, but the sentiment is widespread.