LESS THAN JAKE: See the Light: CD

Honesty first: I feel totally unqualified to review any ska album, much less the latest release from Less Than Jake, a band often credited with defining the sound of third-wave ska. These guys have a two decade long history and substantial catalog that is worthy of consideration. All else said and done, ska is fun. Less Than Jake has a formula, but it’s effective, and why mess with that? See the Light kicks off with classic punchy horns and adolescent energy that never quits. These guys aren’t tired, but seem to be struggling to both maintain the reliable sound that long-term fans want and stay fresh. “John the Baptist Bones” is a standout track with playful, intricate brass work in which the horns almost become an additional voice. “American Idle” swings in a heavier direction with a Green Day flavor and takes on surprisingly dark, political subject matter for such an upbeat, sunny tune. This music is made for veteran fans to skank, shout gang vocals, and swim over each other’s heads to, not contemplate the meaning of life to—but it’s missing some of that raw, DIY passion that perks up my ears. The production is polished and tight, perhaps a bit too shiny. They’re trying a bit too hard to hold on to that high-pitched teenage pop punk vocal sound. I think there’s something a bit wrong if I find a punk record relaxing. Seeing this live would get me head-nodding, but not circle-pitting. It’s satisfying in a weekend beach party way, but unremarkable. I prefer grittier, less bouncy punk, but these guys can laugh that in the face because they’ve made it—to the point where they can return with a safe record after a half-decade of silence, and pick up the crowds as if they were never gone. 

 –Claire Palermo (Fat Wreck Chords, [email protected], fatwreck.com)