Sound — 6
Being one of the more recognizable names from the third-wave ska scene of the '90s, Less Than Jake attempted to branch out beyond the arguably gimmicky punk subgenre in their 2006 album, "In With the Out Crowd," concerned about their style growing too tedious with each album. But with that attempt resulting in a bland outcome that divested the band's sound of its ska traits without offering anything as a significant replacement, LTJ ultimately took the misstep as a sign and a setup to appeal back to their roots, both musically and conceptually. With 2008's "GNV FLA" being both a strong return to their ska punk sound and a bittersweet love letter to their hometown and their salad days, the band would actually return to Gainesville, Florida to record 2013's "See the Light."
Continuing to stay the course of ska punk, LTJ's latest release, the 7-track EP "Sound the Alarm," begins to show the concerns the band had over a decade ago regarding a monotonous sound. Chalk it up to the smaller size, but not only does the scope of their songwriting come off narrow and well-worn - only working in their expected gears of upbeat punk energy and midtempo ska grooves - but it's not hard to hear which iterations are the stronger and weaker ones. Compared to the exceptional bass riffing in the driving "Bombs Drop," and the elaborate brass melodies in "Good Sign," the opening ska punker "Call to Arms" flounders with its feeble brass sections, and with "Whatever the Weather" boasting the strongest instrumental arrangement and harmonies for its traditional ska vibe, the similarly-minded "Welcome to My Life" comes off as a weaker echo, and "Years of Living Dangerously" tries to substitute a bigger lead guitar riff for the usual brass melodies to little avail. Perhaps intentionally saving the best for last, "Things Change" wields both quality ska characteristics and a formidable punk backbone to close the EP out on a high note, but in total, the amount of hits and duds are nearly even.
Lyrics — 8
Like the positive messages that ran throughout their previous album, the lyrics in "Sound the Alarm" are geared towards looking at the glass half full in a hectic world. With Frontman Chris DeMakes admonishing himself for self-destructive tendencies ("This is a call to arms, sound the alarm / I can't keep breaking, breaking myself down like this" in "Call to Arms") and failing to enjoy living in the moment ("Too bad I didn't take a minute / To make the most of every day while I was in it" in "Welcome to My Life"), he adheres to going with the flow of things ("I'll try not to be so complicated tonight and let the stars align / I believe in luck and my faith is blind" in "Years of Living Dangerously") and understands that a bad scenario isn't the end of the world ("The hand you're dealt / Doesn't mean it's all over" in "Things Change").
DeMakes elaborates upon that last lesson by alluding to the nervous uncertainty many feel towards recent events in the world. Addressing people obsessed with the idea of nuclear apocalypse in the near future and using it as a reason to give up hope in "Bombs Drop" ("You can't keep waiting for the bombs to drop / And hope everything just stops"), DeMakes wants to drive home the worth of making lemonade from lemons of any bleak situation ("We were the first to say, let's throw it all away / But now we're fighting through the doom and gloom" in "Good Sign") and appeal to the strength of resolve everyone is capable of ("It's out of my hands, these too hard times / No matter the weather, I'll never waver" in "Whatever the Weather").
Overall Impression — 6
As it happens with any tenured band sticking to familiar ground, Less Than Jake's lather-rinse-repeat of their ska punk sound starts to wane in impact. While LTJ still know how to put forth some decent ska punk in "Sound the Alarm," the EP suffers from that looming sense of staleness, even more so considering it can't cover as much ground as their previous couple of albums. Its solid and pertinent lyrical themes help give the EP some worth beyond its well-worn sound, but LTJ may benefit from brainstorming new ways to spice up their formula come their next record.