Saturday, January 30, 2021

Signal Boost ~ Tales to Make You Vomit!

Find it Here!

Professional pulp madman, J. Manfred Weichsel, returns with a new work to help fight the January blues! For those unaware, Weichsel has a way of slamming new wave and pulp ideas and sensibilities together in a way that highlights the absurdities of modern life. Now he's back to unsettle you once more! Get ready to put the weird back in weird tale.

This is his first entry in his new Tales to Make You Vomit series, entitled She Was Asking for It. This isa new line of stories he is working on to unsettle, terrify you, and make you laugh.

The description:

His girlfriend Emily has been kidnapped by a ghoul called the Librarian and hung upside down above a pit of bubbling lava. In order to win Emily back he must read a book from the Librarian’s collection, without vomiting.

This might sound like an easy task, but the Librarian doesn’t curate just any ordinary books. Each and every terrible tome in her bibliotheca of bile is so disgusting that nobody can read one without doing a Technicolor burp.

The book he must read is a repugnant little horror story about the revolting sex lives of failed Hollywood actors and actresses called She Was Asking for It. It’s a real page turner. It’s a stomach turner too!!!

He’d better have a strong stomach, because if even a single drop of bile escapes from between his lips while reading, his girlfriend will fall into the pit of lava beneath her and be burnt to a cinder.

Can you read this book without throwing up? Do you take the challenge?

It's not for the feint of heart! Once again, you can find it here.

It's been a pretty busy January for those of us in the pulp space, but it isn't stopping anytime soon. February promises to be just exciting. Hold still for more information! 2021's only just getting started.

For more pulp, don't forget that Cirsova is running a 5th Anniversary kickstarter right now!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

What Happened to You

Times change, but people don't. You've certainly heard this many times in your life, and maybe you even believe it. That's fine, there is a truth to it. Most people go through most of their lives without reflecting on what truly makes them tick and what they can do to fix it, clueless as to what is causing most of their ills. We've all been there, some more than others. In that sense, some people don't actually change.

This isn't a way to talk down on others, it's just observable reality. It is easier to remain how you are than to change yourself. We always look for ways to fix problems that involve fixing things other than ourselves. That's just how it goes.

However, there is also a phrase that Chesterton once said that is simultaneously true and yet misunderstood today:

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

There is a temptation to say he is referring to activism or politics, and how one must be skeptical and abrasive to truly be alive, but Chesterton never stopped at that level. He was referring to yourself, your inner self. In order to go against the stream, one has to be aware of what it is you are actually against. Mindless rebellion is the same as floating down the stream as it is equally as effective as doing nothing at all.

People don't always change, not because it's easier to go with the stream, but because it requires a deeper knowledge of oneself in order to understand why one is swimming at all. It requires a knowledge of just what your place in the universe actually is. You have a reason you do everything you do, even if you don't think about it all the time.

Swimming against the stream is about more than believing and protesting things because you learned it in school, but by knowing why you are even swimming to begin with. It's hard to do, so many don't even try. You can let others think for you instead, so just let them do it while you float with the stream. Believing rebellious things is not the same as rebelling, especially when you're letting someone else do all the heavy lifting for you. You might as well be doing nothing at all. Having others think for you is exactly the same as floating against the stream.

When you don't understand even something of that basic level you tend to let the stream overtake you. Suddenly words that have been used for hundreds of years are now not only off-limits, but people who continue to use them must be destroyed to make way for progress. New phrases are introduced to describe things that either don't exist or had much clearer definitions that worked before. Disagree? Then you are bad person who should be treated like a bad person should. Those who think like you did on issues even five years ago are suddenly irredeemably evil. When you're not allowed to get simple answers to simple questions, you are dealing with someone floating with the stream and letting others do the work for them.

It's understandable. We all tend to go with the flow, because the flow is simple. It requires no effort. We are also trained to trust and respect the people in charge, so when the people in charge drop the ball it causes internal distress and doubt. Should this doubt spread far enough among a populace it causes fracturing, societal decay. The worse the mistrust grows, the more fractures spring up. Short of divine intervention, there isn't any real way to bridge this gap without making an effort to. We cannot reconnect if we don't believe in the same basic truths, such as the simple definition of words. Things will only get worse the longer we float with the stream and allow it to go on. To think otherwise is to simply not be living in the real world.

This goes a long way to describing just what is wrong with a lot of today's art, as well as the combative attitude many of the urbanites and culturally clueless Hollywood residents who run most corporations and old industries indulge in. There is an enormous gap that can't be bridged because it isn't separated by distance, but by an entire universe. Those in charge of your industries think themselves above you, because they don't see you as people like they are. It's a problem of worldview, not liable to be changed as long as an entire populace of people continues to float with the stream and allow this to go on. These people are rewarded for floating with the stream, so why would they swim against it? To think otherwise is to not be paying attention.

Suffice to say, there are those who notice this and wish to do something about it. How do you bring together a smattering of smashed and shattered pieces into a cohesive whole again when nobody agrees if you should use glue or tape? It's a mystery, but it has been tried, many times. One of the less successful attempts, yet most influential to modern thought, is the movement now called New Sincerity.

Their answer to fixing the deepest roots of the problem with society was simple. Just pretend they are not there.

What is New Sincerity? Here is the wiki definition:

New Sincerity (closely related to and sometimes described as synonymous with post-postmodernism) is a trend in music, aesthetics, literary fiction, film criticism, poetry, literary criticism and philosophy that generally describes creative works that expand upon and break away from concepts of postmodernist irony and cynicism.

Its usage dates back to the mid-1980s; however, it was popularized in the 1990s by American author David Foster Wallace.

I'm not totally convinced this was a real movement but a gaggle of fractured post-modernists seeing the writing on the wall, and trying to do something about it. It should also be mentioned that postpostmodernism is the most ridiculous phrase ever invented by a modern mind, and that's saying something from the group that invented modern art.

Here is how the above Mr. Wallace described what he wanted:

"The next real literary "rebels" in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that'll be the point. Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today's risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "Oh how banal". To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows."

As a critic stated of Mr. Wallace's book Infinite Jest:

"The theory is this: Infinite Jest is Wallace's attempt to both manifest and dramatize a revolutionary fiction style that he called for in his essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction." The style is one in which a new sincerity will overturn the ironic detachment that hollowed out contemporary fiction towards the end of the 20th century. Wallace was trying to write an antidote to the cynicism that had pervaded and saddened so much of American culture in his lifetime. He was trying to create an entertainment that would get us talking again."

If this sounds like Superversive or the Pulp Revolution decades before either would be realized, you would be half right. That half is everything, however. The postmodernists were smart enough to see a problem on the road ahead. However, they were not forward enough in their thinking to see that postmodernism is not the cure for postmodernism. Postmodernism, after all, is just honest modernism. It's all the same thing. All of this was baked into the cake of the Enlightenment™, and the logical conclusion thereof. It's all baked into the same batter. If you say that everything is made up and therefore objectively pointless then eventually everyone starts to make their own everythings up, including morality and even a new version of sincerity.

No one really denies this is true, but few agree it is dangerously stupid. The answer to being set on fire is not to throw yourself into a furnace, but to put yourself out.

So how did this all come about? Why was "sincerity" needed in art of the time? You will have to go back in time and remember the climate of what was happening back in the mid-80s.

Putting this all together is not that difficult. It goes back to the youth of the time becoming young adults. Gen X was the first generation to be raised post-1960s and the first postmodern generation raised in the wake of a nihilistic culture living off hedonism and general vice. They knew something was wrong, but didn't have much of a clue what, since the past was regularly hidden from them from those in charge. Meanwhile they were also being washed over in postmodern media from New Wave writing to the pretty gloss of the morally vapid modern cinema. They rebelled against everything, including the fake sincerity of a world everyone was pretending wasn't broken. This group was coming of age by the late '80s as serious purveyors of art--art that annoyed a lot of hedonists. This is about the time you will see all those slacker teenager archetypes in media of the period, and portrayals of the youth as cynical and mean.

There was a lot of Gen X commentary of the time, some jokes, and some affectionate portrayals, but one thing was clear: no one could actually refute their arguments. Things were getting worse, as those of us in Gen Y were about to learn in a few years, and nobody in charge knew what to do about it except to let it crumble. 30 years removed and it looks like those Gen Xers were correct in their despair, while the older generations can't help but look out of touch. There is a reason a lot of art between the 1950s and 1980s is really hard to enjoy, even as a historical curiosity. Too much of it is mindless positivity or negativity all based on wishful thinking as to how the world should be run. It is all just modernism run amok. Gen X was simply showing it for what it really was.

What New Sincerity tried to do was find meaning and purpose in a way of life and thinking that had nothing under the surface level. Just as those who raved about Joyce's prose while oblivious to the fact that he had nothing of value to say in those pretty words and phrases, New Sincerity wanted to portray a pretty. glossy, and germ-free, world that simply sidesteps the problems that arise from ignoring the consequences of your own thought processes.

It's really just another attempt to hide the body.

"In his 2010 essay "David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction", Adam Kelly argues that Wallace's fiction, and that of his generation, is marked by a revival and theoretical reconception of sincerity, challenging the emphasis on authenticity that dominated twentieth-century literature and conceptions of the self."

Instead of answering sincere and authentic questions that were springing up, the answer was to redefine the meaning of what sincerity meant. Instead of swimming against the stream, they found a way to keep floating with it. In other words, they chose to reframe lies as truth. Such is the way of modernist, free-for-all thinking. It was always going to end this way.

The answer to the question "What is the meaning of life?" is apparently "What is meaning really?" to a purveyor of New Sincerity. A reframing that not only doesn't answer the very real questions a desperate generation has, but trivializes them and atomizes the disenfranchised even further.

It also mischaracterizes why the doom and gloom existed in the first place.

The reason irony and sarcasm became popular is because of a defeatism built into an entire generation of people due to life experience. You cannot just handwave their very real concerns away by pretending they have no point, yet that is what this "movement" did. Ironically, it was the defeatist sarcasm of the Gen Xers that was sincere, while the makeshift "sincerity" of these upper class urbanites was a white flag disguised as a sidestep.

Reframing words in order to win arguments. Where have we seen that before? Yes, it is precisely the problem happening in present day culture. You see it every single time Hollywood announces a terrible looking, creatively bankrupt movie. It is the normal people who are wrong while those who mindlessly consume Hollywood product are the smart ones. This attitude still exists in the 21st century.

In fact, New Sincerity is the root of all the worst ills currently assailing western culture. See for yourself if any of the below looks familiar.

Yes, this faux sincerity is what led to the bugman mentality and fragile "positivity" that infects modern men and women, particularly in "geek" circles. Every current problem in the arts can be traced to this make believe sincerity that simply sidestepped the past and pretends there is nothing to be learned from it. Reality is what you make of it!

For those unaware, a bugman is a term to refer to one who has about as much depth as a consuming locust to their personality. They live to devour, and little else. Their personalities don't go beyond consumption or empty moralizing based on platitudes they were taught in school or by the media. Because they were taught so ineptly by their boomer parents they simply drank the slop they were given by government-backed school system and use that is their sole personality. They were trained to float in the stream, and they do so with a smirking grin on their greasy faces.

This is why they all have the same beliefs on every subject and share the same empty morals that they try to enforce on others. New Sincerity was an attempt to make sure this new group of kids coming up after Gen X did not notice there was no man behind the green curtain. But it didn't quite work too well. You can see the wheels coming off of this train every day. Only momentum keeps the train rolling. The driver died and fell off long ago.

It's one thing to ask where the social justice sermonizing of the past decade came from, but it's another to ask how these Millennials were able to buy into it so easily whereas the nearby Gen X and Gen Y woke up one day to find themselves under its boot. The reason is because this "new" sincerity is what replaced the classical education and religious knowledge that was once ingrained in society. It happened so gradually that it was hardly noticed until it was too late. They attempted to replace the glue that held the west together with cheap paste, and that paste is now wearing thin and crusting to dust.

This isn't to say only one generation fell into the empty moralizing trap, there are plenty of those in older and younger generations than Millennials who fell into it, but it was those coming of age during the dour '00s that fell victim to this mindset the hardest. Because of this, you have people taught lies as truth attempting to destroy those who still believe truth as truth. It's a righteous mess that isn't going to end in a good place.

So what is so wrong with New Sincerity? Isn't it preferable to the Gen X irony and misery we were all living through back in the day? Shouldn't we have fun again and ignore the bad attitudes holding us back? Why is it wrong to not be miserable?

These aren't the questions to ask. The questions to ask is if they were based on truth or not. New Sincerity was deliberately not based on truth, but on wishful thinking. It's built on lies, well meaning or not. This makes it harmful, and in the 21st century is hard to see it as anything else.

The difference is that the Gen X malaise was based on observable reality by those who live through it. The bitterness and sarcasm as honesty, despite its flaws based on incomplete information. New Sincerity is nothing but lying. It is admitting what the Gen Xers said and then pretending it doesn't matter as an excuse to indulge in hedonism, both material and emotional, to avoid the truth of your own thought process. There is nothing sincere about a lie, no matter how much you wish it not to be one.

This nonsense is akin to taking LSD to break a Heroin addiction

A good chunk of the criticism of postmodernist thought is by moderns who don't like that their own beliefs lead down this empty road to nowhere. They just think others should stop thinking instead. Stop taking things to their logical conclusion and ignore the reality of your own ideas. Instead of reassessing and fighting against the stream, they deliberately misdiagnose the problem in order to continue their mindless drift. It's not fighting the stream at all, merely turning over to float on your stomach. All that does is help you drown faster.

I said before that one of the appeals to punk rock music was that it was made by the forgotten silents, and picked up by Gen X, and last really affecting Gen Y, before it phased out into nothing. It's music for a line of ostracized generations. This is a result of those incharge plugging their ears to the very real concerns of their youth. Since then, you've been dealing with a generation raised on false sincerity based on wishful thinking followed by a generation that only sees madness that needs blowing up. All of this would have been avoided if not for the modernist trap, but it is what it is. Now it's going to happen the hard way.

This oncoming disaster was predicted before, though it was routinely ignored. In fact, it was buried. From writers such as the above Chesterton to even pulp writers, many had guessed what was going to happen, so they were unpersoned as if they never existed and left out of print while degenerate material remained on store shelves, eventually leading to the sharp decline in sales that killed reading as a pastime among normal people. Yes, this hatred of reality has been around long. It happened far more recently than you would think.

Author Fritz Leiber was one of the old pulp masters credited with "moving" the genre towards modernism with his stories such as Smoke Ghost which abandoned the old villages, small towns, and graveyards, of old weird fiction, and created tales that took place in the modern city. Many credited him with doing this as a way of keeping the form fresh, or whatever nonsense they wanted to justify abandoning the old ways for the new, but that isn't why he did it. That isn't why writers write. What Mr. Leiber did was use this burgeoning modernism as a source for the horror itself.

Take the relatively unknown short novel You're All Alone. Originally written as his third novel in 1943, fits and starts in the market meant he had nowhere to submit it for near seven years, even writing an alternate version that nearly doubled its length and was eventually published under another title (with chopped up editing and spiced up sex-scenes against his will, because editors at the time were degenerates) years later. The original version of You're All Alone was published in Fantastic Adventures in 1950. It almost missed the pulp era entirely. This original 40,000 word novel, You're All Alone, tells the story of a clockwork universe eerily similar to our own. In this one, Leiber imagines what the world would be like if that old deist idea really was true.

The results show both a satire on modern city life and the horror of what atomization from existence really would feel like should one break their winded-up pattern. Carr, the main character, is just a normal man working a normal desk job, day and day out. One day he sees a woman acting strangely just outside. She comes into the office pretending she is there for a meeting and is somewhat surprised to see that he is interacting with her. Through a strange series of events, he learns that no one seems to see her or the weirdness going on around them, and slowly he begins being embroiled in her very real problems. The story is about this odd world just outside his own that he never knew existed. It's a modern twist on the weird tale, but no less as valid an approach.

The original Fantastic Adventures cover, reprinted

There will be some spoilers because the nature of this universe, which is incidental to the story, yet necessary, has to be discussed in at least some way. So be warned if you wish to go into You're All Alone spoiler-free.

Most people go with the flow because life contains a sort of hypnotic rhythm that keeps you in line, not unlike clockwork that clicks forward regardless of your whims. Most people are dead, fallen into this clockwork that lets the individual live for them, but some can feel this strange sensation and use it to live in it or fall out of it should they will it. However, becoming unstuck is dangerous as there are all sorts of dangers from doing so, such as roving gangs of deviants and men in black hats that run down those who cause problems. It is more of a risk to be outside the pattern than be in it, therefore it is safer to remain in it.

What you might be thinking, since it is a very modern cliché, is that the pattern is the horrific part of the story and falling out of it is paradise. The individual rises above the masses! It's not quite that simple. To fall out of the pattern, one must not only be aware of it, but want to do so--this means the majority who fall out of it are antisocial thugs, perverts, and violent criminals, looking to torture and destroy anyone they can, preferably those others who live outside of the pattern. They can't be caught or jailed, after all. The dog on the front cover is used by one such woman to hunt down and attack those she desires seeing hurt. In other words, those who hate and reject life itself are those who entirely reject the pattern and live for themselves. They prefer to live outside because they can do whatever they want without consequence and they desire victims to keep the pleasure train going. One can say that they live in a rhythm of their own.

As for the Black Hats, the enforcers of the pattern, they aren't given much focus until the end of the story since they only seem to show up throughout the tale to go after the main antagonists, but for obvious reasons our main characters are quite scared of them. It is only at the end of the story when these men thank someone in the shadows who they don't realize is actually dead that their intentions become clear. They are not chasing down those who deviate from the pattern, but those who break it and cause evil and distress. Those who fell out of the rhythm are not what was being prosecuted, but those disturbing the peace and hiding from justice.

So the conclusion Carr comes to is that slowly awakening people while living in the pattern is the best path to success. The rhythm exists as a guide, but to mindlessly fall into it is to risk your own health. You need to be able to see beyond what is directly in front of you. Carr knows that drifting in the stream is dangerous. It might take a long time to fully understand the pattern, but at least he now knows his station in life. Will his idea work? Who knows, but at least he is no longer floating with the stream and is willing to search for the truth.

Is You're All Alone meant to be a philosophical treatise on the meaning of life? No, it's a pulp thriller. It's not meant to be realistic at all. I severely doubt Mr. Leiber believed in his theory that would allow normal people to receive stab wounds out of thin air and not notice, or put their keys in a car that isn't there and not move because there is no car. He merely uses the premise to tell his story of a man who learns the purpose of life is more than mindless drudgery or hedonistic pleasures. It's a simple sort of pulp tale in the mold that made them so interesting.

But in its pages are some truth. There is a pattern we can find ourselves in to make getting through life easier and in the process lose our purpose. But rejecting life isn't the answer, through that path lies an entirely different type of death.

What Mr. Leiber noticed was that the modern world is built for living in a pattern. It incentivizes repetitive actions over adventure and mechanical thinking over wonder. It's not what existence is, but merely a vague facsimile of it. This is the urban life, same as it always was. One would have to wonder if it was made this way for this purpose.

But realizing that would have to require going against the stream, wouldn't it?

Ace printing from 1972

Real sincerity is admitting reality, not hiding from it. Art is about connections, including the artist's relationship with the truth. We are made to seek it out. Even if you get it wrong, the important part is that you want the truth enough to fight for it, enough to swim against the current.

All things must pass, which means the modern world is not going to last forever. However, it is not going to be broken or conquered with the same thoughts and ideas that led it into this mess to begin with. It's actually going to require going against the flow you were trained to float in. For most of us, maybe even all of us, that is going to be a feat far beyond what has been done in several generations. It requires rejecting falsities for truth.

But times are changing, whether we want them or not. We're not marching towards any pattern or progress, but onward as that is what time does. Should we continue to be asleep, to prescribe the same medicine that is currently causing ills, and refuse to look to the past in order to move forward, we will remain floating dead in the stream as everything collapses around us. Decay will only persist as entropy cannot be stopped by hopeful wishes from those who think reality can be altered by thoughts alone. It would be laughable if it wasn't such a prevalent thought process.

Modernism is done, finished. That path has been explored, and the rhythm it offers is not worth salvaging. We can no longer remain here where we know nothing good remains. It is time to answer those questions tossed off decades ago and accept where it leads us.

Once again, the answer is to go back in order to move forward. Reassess where we went wrong and work from there. The answer to alcoholism isn't to drink more alcohol, it's to stop drinking. We all need an intervention, before those in charge ban those next. Fighting to float is a worthless cause, but that is what is being foisted on us right now.

So start swimming. Who knows what lies at the end of this wild ride, but it has to be better than the cliff we are heading towards right now. It's going to take a revolution of thought, but we can get there. It just requires changing everything you know.

At least know you're not alone. There are many out there just like you, looking for the right way to swim. It's only a matter of time before we figure out the right direction.

For a revolution in art, check out the Pulp Mindset! The world is changing around you, so be sure you aren't caught unaware!

Monday, January 25, 2021

Signal Boost ~ "AI Wars" by Jon Del Arroz!

Find it Here!

Do you remember when I said authors were busy this month? I meant it. Today, the Leading Hispanic Voice in Science Fiction, Jon Del Arroz, has just released his first comic of the year. If you know anything about JDA, this is merely the first of many, but is worth talking about for its relatively early release this year.

He doesn't typically stay in one comic genre too long, and today is no different. That said, amazon is doing its usual tricks and taking forever to link multiple editions, so if you're looking for the paperback version, it is here.

The description:

A.I. Overlords enslave humanity...

...but a brave few fight for survival.

Tom Palmer never wanted to be a hero, he just wanted to take his happy medication like everyone else in the A.I.-controlled factory, but when an accident causes him to miss taking his injection, he gets pinned with a terrorist act caused by humanity's resistance.

On the run, Tom Palmer must join the revolutionaries for his own survival. The hopes of future generations of humanity rest on his shoulders!

Fans of Saga, The Fifth Element, and The Expanse will love AI Wars! Read the comic today!

January isn't even over yet, and NewPub writers are still putting them out! Check it out today. Once again, AI Wars can be found here.

See you soon.

If you are looking for a way to make time for creativity of your own, then check out this book from author David V. Stewart. It's going to be a crazy year!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Signal Boost ~ "Light Unto Another World" Kickstarter!

Find it Here!

January is usually a light month, for many reasons, but writers apparently don't slow down. While the recent Cirsova 5th Anniversary campaign is chugging along, space opera scribe Yakov Merkin has thrown is hat into the ring for a kickstarter of his own.

After just finishing his seven volume space opera series, he has decided to move into the much quicker form of light novels. Yes, it's traditionally a Japanese form, but that doesn't mean anyone else can't give their own unique spin on it. Yakov is doing just that. You can check it out here for yourself.

He decided to take inspiration from anime such as Gate to add a unique touch.

The description:

Uriel Makkis, a young soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, was on his way to base for just another week in his tank when something very unexpected happened. A portal opened, pulling him into an unfamiliar world, with no one to be found.

Never one to succumb to panic, Uriel does the only thing he can do: push forward to figure out just what has happened to him.

Almost before he knows it, he finds himself entangled in an entirely new conflict, one that runs far deeper than he realizes.

With no way home, all Uriel can do is trust in God to point him on the right path, and fight to secure not just his own survival, but that of those he has quickly come to rely on and care about.

With the help of these trusted friends, he must find out precisely what is happening on this world, and do what must be done.

Be a light unto this alien world.

Each of them will need to draw on all their skills and knowledge if they are to emerge victorious in a world whose most powerful forces appear arranged against them.

Action and excitement await!

And in this isekai adventure that is at the same time unique but which also captures the essence of what makes such stories fun, you cannot simply leave the old world behind.

It should also be mentioned that the author has already completed five volumes. Yes, he works at pulp speed, too. Back this to guarantee a good time. Once more, the campaign is here.

As for myself, well, there are a lot of things on the way, some very soon. Hopefully I can announce one of them shortly, but that is out of my hands for now. Needless to say, 2021 is going to be a busy year for the pulp revolution. Keep awake!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Devil in Our DNA

Tomorrow isn't destined to come, and neither are you destined to be the way you are. However, sometimes it's tough to notice that, especially when you are young.

I've never met anyone who doesn't consider their teenage years the worst part of their life. It's a miserable time after the excitement and discovery of one's youth, and before the self-reflection and clarity that adulthood offers to put that mess in perspective. It's an in-between time that, especially in the modern world, feels like the time when lies are actualized in one's personality as a tool needed to forge a way in the uncaring world. I know I've seen many learn the hard lessons the wrong way and either went all in on sin and "success" or gave up hope that this life was worth the living, all from the life lessons they were taught during that second decade of their lives.

My generation of Gen Y either blames the Boomers or the Millennials for all of this, even if they don't say it. The former for pulling the rug out from under them at the worst possible moment, and the latter for sliding into their place as the golden child generation overnight. The main thing is that they were memory-holed overnight by a culture they were told would be there for them as long as they pulled up their bootstraps. Like everything else, it turned out to be a lie. What this did was create a lost generation of boys and girls fashioned to be cogs in a machine that switched to operating by microchips at the eleventh hour. We are the last generation to have an analog childhood, and it is still what defines us to this day. This goes beyond products. It's not something that can be easily conquered, especially in an atomized, uncaring world.

However, as much as we might claim that we love our time as children and worship the products and brands we were showered in back then, the truth of the matter is that our childhood years did not define us. Gen Y fights to reclaim those years, not because they were the best years of their lives, but because they know what came after them. The faceoff with reality that was their teenage and young adult years is what made Gen Y what they are today, and what they have spent the majority of their adult lives trying to avoid. They have rejected your reality and replaced it with their own.

Think about it. Why is it always '80s and '90s brands that get nostalgic play, despite it only forming a small segment of their lives? Gen Y was between the ages of ten and twenty when the year 2000 rolled around, and yet they never acknowledge what came later unless its already attached to a brand they grew up on. That was over 20 years ago, a full two thirds of their lives have gone by since then, but it isn't what they focus on. It only focuses on a small window. Sure, part of the reason is that Post-9/11 world of art was pure garbage, but it is still a denial of a large chunk of their past.

I would submit that Gen Y retreated to their childhoods because of what they experienced after they graduated from high school was nothing but lies and wild inaccuracies, and no one would admit this or offer a sensible explanation as to how to deal with this. So an entire generation simply rejected the world and retreated into their own.

My perspective might be a bit skewed since, outside of the usual Gen Y experience, my teenage years actually were the worst years of my life. Beyond typical teenage problems, my personal life melted down long before the Gen Y dream was shattered. Personally, I believe this ended up being a better thing in the end, to learn that you can't trust family, friends, and institutions, just because of their labels. However, it was also awkward dealing with a reality that known of my peers yet knew existed and were stubborn in that they knew better. By the time they realized the truth, it was too late to do anything about it. This is what drove me to experience Gen X art a few years early while my peers were telling themselves that Friends was good actually.

Most of the indie and underground art in the the late '80s through the late '90s was made by Gen X, and it is what I began to gravitate towards. To me, it looked like they understood the truth. The world was broken in some way I didn't understand, there was something wrong with me I couldn't quite grasp, and that no one seems to notice any of this. Things were simply getting better, even as they clearly weren't.

Of course, this was the mentality for the younger generations at the time. Without any real tradition or stability gifted to them from the older generations before them, confusion and searching bordered on and threatened to become nihilism and despair. Most of Gen Y just simply jumped to the latter once they learned they were on their own.

I listened to alternative music before any of my peers did. The first album I bought was Oasis' [What's the Story] Morning Glory? in elementary school and it only went on from there. I'd always been big into rock music, but the boomer rock my parents and relatives reveled in never did it for me. Alternative was exciting and new, so I stuck close to it, especially since it was being made by those just a generation older than I was. It felt like I had someone to connect to on a deeper level.

However, I must confess that I couldn't shake one thing. As a kid, the Stray Cats had introduced me to rockabilly and their lead singer, Brian Setzer, also introduced me to swing music as a teenager, and in the process sparked a love of pre-boomer rock and pop music that still flourishes today. Part of the tradition of rock music is that it is meant to make you move: to dance. While blues was introspective and slow, rock was meant to make you throw off your cares and move. As much as I dug alternative: it didn't make you want to dance. There was something missing in this music that I couldn't shake.

Luckily, I was also a gamer. Because even though I was big into alternative and older rock, I could never quite bridge that gap. That is, until I played a game called Street Sk8er in 1998. Inside, I finally met the genre that gave me what I wanted--a music that was both alternative, and wanted you to dance. Something that attempted to bridge that gap.

If you were around during that era then you know what I'm referring to. That would be ska music, specifically the Third Wave Ska Revival that was so hated by critics.

The game included three ska songs, The Pietasters' Out All Night, a soul/ska ditty from an album I still enjoy greatly, but it's the other two that stuck with me longer. This would be the two songs from Less Than Jake called Sugar in Your Gas Tank and All My Best Friends Are Metalheads that opened my eyes to this new genre. The former was a song that mashed moshing and dancing in a song I would later learn was considered ska-punk, but the latter was a bonafide power pop ska number with punk influence that ended up being the band's most well known song, and for good reason. They scratched an itch a lot of us didn't know we had.

If you know anything about the band or the genre, then you probably know this song. It was never a proper single at the time, for a reason that will become clear later, but that didn't stop it from getting radio play and inclusion in movies and video games. In fact, All My Best Friends Are Metalheads, along with Goldfinger's Superman, it is a song that received most of its popularity from being included in video games.

In many ways it was a signal of the changes to come in the entertainment industry. Underestimate gaming at your own peril. It was the last converged industry for a reason.

Near a million and a half views on youtube, for a reason

This isn't going to be a post on the genre itself, though. I more or less already made one. My love affair with third wave ska was short-lived as the genre was soon dumped by the major labels for the mistake that was nu metal, and the majority of third wave ska bands sold out to become emo, dropped their horns and pretended they could play tired pop punk, or just quietly walked way from music altogether. The industry said this music shouldn't be played anymore, and the bands nodded along to their masters. It was another wake up call.

And this wasn't just a problem with ska. Too many bands I thought were cool, independent, and edgy, ended up being poseurs trying to sell an image. Life was meaningless, man, but that doesn't mean we can't make a few bucks out of it, or tell you that you should pointlessly care about things anyway. Before the empty humanism of social justice and New Sincerity there was the carefully crafted rocker image designed to suck money out of your ennui and defeatist view of the world. It's a shame, but they wouldn't do it if it didn't work.

However, that isn't really what happened with Less Than Jake, a band that is getting ready to celebrate its 30th year together. They existed in this era, but they represent a better part of it. If a band can be stated to "evolve" without it sounding like an excuse to trend hop, it would be LTJ. To explain, I should start from the beginning.

The band formed in 1992 as a power pop trio with punk leanings (you can hear it in the song Big from their first album, which was the first one they ever wrote) but soon discovered the underground scene and the then-burgeoning ska music. They quickly brought on a sax and trombone player, got a new bassist, and were ready to go. And it should be mentioned, outside of their saxophone player who left and was replaced in 1996, and other additional horn players that came and left outside the original two, this was the same lineup they held for about 25 years. For any band, never mind a genre like ska, that is an impressive feat. Suffice to say, they believe in what they are doing.

While Operation Ivy was the first band to successfully combine 1980s punk with ska music, and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones with metal and rock, Less Than Jake was a puree blend of power pop, punk, and ska, where they could go through all three, or only one, in a song, and have it sound just like only they could. They never really broke from this sound, despite clearly being egged on to do it.

After putting out some early EPs and 7'' records in the early '90s, they finally managed to scrape together enough support to put out a debut album. This is where they managed to solidify their sound, and they did it just before the genre exploded from the underground. In 1995, Pezcore came out, which is an album that grabbed them a lot of attention, including a record deal.

It doesn't mean they were polished or the best musicians since "punk" means you can't really be, but even early on you can hear they had good pop songwriting chops. A lot of hard work would eventually get them to success. Starting as a fledgling independent band, they were even told by punk "industry" clowns that they shouldn't quit their day jobs.

Suffice to say, they've outlived most of those hacks by now.

An example of their early work

But their hard work did yield success. LTJ would go on to release 1996's Losing Streak, still considered one of the defining albums of ska-punk, before finally mastering their power pop ska blend with 1998's Hello Rockview and yielding the biggest songs of their career. 1997 also saw them have a song on the Good Burger soundtrack called We're All Dudes, sung by the movie's star, Kel Mitchel. For all intents and purposes, they had made it. Remember, this was just before the recording industry killed itself. Less Than Jake got in under the wire.

But I don't think the lyrics the band attaches to their fast-paced and bouncy songs is really given near enough credit for their success. Written by drummer Vinnie, they aren't quite what you would expect from a power pop, punk, or ska, band. In fact, they feel more like general musings on life as a Gen Xer at the time they were written.

Take the above example in Time and a Half/Econolodged, which are two different songs the band later mashed together for live shows and in the edit I made above. These are two of their earliest songs, written in the early '90s, and this is what they say:

Time and a Half/Econolodged

It was a cold December on 2nd Ave and 6th Street (and 6th Street!)
Too cold to think about anybody passing me (passing me!)
When I overheard "I'm gonna tell you straight from the shoulder . . . (shoulder!)

"Boy . . . You better get running!"

On the corner of 2nd and 6th and out of time,
With a cough, feeling lost, and a bottle of cheap wine,
Just then I realized that I can't seem to understand,
When I saw that guy heading for the dopeman.

It's just the same old story on the same old street,
And it's just another worn down, worn out casualty,
On 2nd Ave and 6th Street.

On the corner of 2nd and 6th and feeling down (down!)
When I overheard "I'm gonna take a gun and take you out" (take you out!)
Just then I realized that I can't seem to understand (understand!)
How anyone can take the life of another man!

It's just the same old story on the same old street,
And it's just another worn down, worn out casualty,
On 2nd Ave and 6th Street.

Let's get it up,
My life spent round the clock,
Got me running on a treadmill with no time to stop,
And competition puts a price on time,
When I see the people who've been left behind,
Step on the people who've been left behind,
Competition puts a price on time.

Man, I'm all I've got, 
Like it or not, 
I'm all I've got (I'm just Econolodged!)
Man, I'm all I've got,
Like it or not, 
I'm all I've got (I'm just Econolodged!)
Man, I'm all I've got,
Like it or not,

I'm all I've got.

Suffice to say, I have been listening to this band for over 20 years and this, one of their earliest songs, is still one of my favorites. It captures a time and place, a feeling, and a mood, that could only have come from when it was written . . . even if what it was written about still exists today. Atomization and the cost of material success has lead to the imploding city in the first half of the song, working "Time and a Half" to get this state while being "Econolodged" in life with nowhere else to go because material success and individuality are the only escapes, both of which lead to the same place. Hard to believe they were barely in their twenties when that was written.

But they only improved from there was they went on, and the times changed. Even Gen X kids had to grow up eventually. Though that doesn't mean the song isn't true, because it is. But life is about more than the bad side, and LTJ realized that as they grew. There are things to be thankful for.

While it has been said the rest of the guys were the heart of the band, Vinnie was definitely the brains. Their catchy hooks bring you in the door, but their lyrics keep you there. Part of the point of rock music, which was inherited by blues, is that it is a way to blow off steam and recharge your batteries. Gen-Xers in the early '90s were still trying to understand the world melting down around them, which is how they managed to connect so easily with the younger generation who just didn't get it yet. Unfortunately, they lost that appeal when they started proposing solutions that were somehow worse than the broken things they were complaining about.

I noticed a disturbing trend in success in regards to Gen X music, and it has made me pessimistic on a lot of it looking back. Most Gen X music centered on "the world is bad" then eventually translated into being "if we fix the world we will be happy" as a conclusion. This meant bands even popular with Gen Xers never quite hit mainstream acceptance. For example, The Replacements, whose front-man, the Catholic Paul Westerberg, eventually posited what was wrong with the world was him . . . and the mainstream just doesn't take to that message very well.

Less Than Jake, being honest, soon found this road as well, and it might have led to their downfall, at least as far as mainstream or "industry" cool kid acceptance goes. Unlike most Gen X bands that are still going, they only managed to improve.

While their early work was about trying to navigate a broken world, as early as their second album, Losing Streak, they began to question themselves as well. The very first lyric in the very first song is "I think I know it all," which turns into a song about living life on automatic and assuming things purely because it is easy, before the narrator wonders if he thinks he knows it all because he's trained himself to believe he has the answers. Later in the album comes the earlier mentioned Sugar in Your Gas Tank about how you can't fix the world if you can't fix yourself. The band was changing rather fast, and it only stands to reason that so would their sound. Losing Streak was their final ska-punk album before the band finally reinjected power pop into their sound.

With Hello Rockview they hit the peak of their powers. Every song is full of hooks, and they have shifted their sound to be more of a power pop/ska blend with some punk flair to keep it spiky and spicy. As a result, every track is memorable and easily distinguishable just from the opening bars. It is still their best album to this day, because you could tell they knew exactly what they wanted to achieve.

Lyrically, however, it is a breakthrough for Vinnie. He is someone who now fully understands much of what is wrong with the world is that we have an inner beast, a demon, that prevents us from fully changing everything for the better. The album is a loose concept album (with the songs out of order because you can't put the depressing or slower songs at the front) based on his life at the time. Heck, the album title comes from a childhood friend being then recently sent to Rockview Penitentiary. It's the meta-story surrounding the lyrics that make them even more interesting.

Hello Rockview is about someone who grows up in his small town and thinks that is what is holding him back from the greater things in life. If he could get away from the bad people and things, everything would just work out. He then goes out into the world and meets people all over with similar and worse problems than him, and comes to an understanding that everyone has their own devils they are battling. He would do better to go home and fix his own life instead of running from it and pretending the solution is to turn away from the way the world is. The conclusion to this journey is essentially the song linked near the top of the post with All My Best Friends Are Metalheads, their most popular song to date.

In case you need the lyrics, here they are:

Do you think its strange, 
That there's a way,
Of how you looked, and how you act, and how you think,
Pretend they're not the same as you.

Do you know about her strength in convictions,
Or how she puts all her faith in religion?
Did we take the time to really discover,
How little we know about each other?

Keep us from saying anything,
Can't separate from everything,
And all this really means is,
You're one in a crowd,
And you're paranoid with every sound,
You're not the friend you won't miss anyhow.

Yes, that was released in 1998. It reads like a message needed more in 2021 than it did back then, but the band had a way of writing lyrics that didn't feel like preaching but in trying to connect their ideas to the listener. Just like art is supposed to do. As a consequence, this is still one of my favorite songs of all time, and I'm not certain it will become anything else as time goes on. It has their catchiest hooks and their most striking lyrics. If the major labels didn't hate ska at the time it might have even been the hit single it should have been. But, no, it was up to video games to do that instead.

It only stands to reason that with this album that had hit the peak of their powers. They finally perfected both the sound and the lyrics they were trying to go for since they started. Clearly it was only uphill from this point forward.

But then the music industry imploded. 1998 was bad year for a lot of things. Ska was no longer allowed to be played on radio, autotune and sanded off guitars began to overtake rock music, and the slew of mergers killed many bands' careers overnight. Less Than Jake was almost one of these bands, though apparently they instead took their next album, Borders & Boundaries, to the independents themselves instead of having it put out by a record company that didn't seem to care about what they were doing. This might have proven a good idea, because Borders & Boundaries was not a good album so it being independent did not end up hurting their careers.

I know there are LTJ fans who love this album now, but the disappointment at the time existed for a very good reason coming after Hello Rockview. It's not even close to as good, and I think even those who like the album would admit that. There are a few problems which can be laid out with one main issue: It was an attempt at a glossy power pop album by a band still trying to play rough punk.

There is almost no ska on the album, and what is there is minimal. The album borders on being overproduced with screeching, smooth guitars dominating everything not unlike a major label rock song from the era. The songwriting is jerky, without the ska to bounce off of the band doesn't quite know how to stick a landing without throwing awkward distortion over it. The hooks are buried and muted because most of the songs are too fast and loose to be power pop and too smooth and produced to be punk. The album is a jumbled mix of pieces that do not fit together. It's an identity crisis put to wax, or disc.

And the lyrics, unfortunately, are also a step back. Actually, I can't even say they are a step back, because that would imply they receded to being as good as Losing Streak or even Pezcore. Those lyrics were about things that mattered to the person who wrote them. It isn't that Borders & Boundaries' lyrics are badly written, but that they aren't really about anything. The best songs on the album (Look What Happened, Magnetic North, Gainesville Rock City, and Faction) are about things Vinnie had already written about before, and feel like a step back emotionally and come very close to cliché. There is nothing on the level of a Short on Ideas/One Last Cigarette, Shindo, Lockdown, or Help Save the Youth of America from Exploding. Neither is there anything as fun and loose as We're All Dudes, Five State Drive, Liquor Store, or Johnny Quest Thinks We're Sellouts. The album is just a misstep in every way that counts.

However, something strange then happened. The pop punk explosion occurred in the early '00s, led by Blink 182 and Green Day, and several bands that were signed to majors in the '90s suddenly got a second chance at the plate. Less Than Jake was one of them, and they signed up to a new label. This started a new era in their career. As usual, it didn't quite go the way you would think.

Less Than Jake's history after this point is bizarre, to say the least. The band's sound was definitely pushed to sound more commercial, but they instead leaned harder on their power pop side than ever before. While the industry wanted pop punk and emo, LTJ didn't really deliver it to them. Instead they finally buckled down and pushed their sound forward and finally reached what they were struggling to reach a few years before in 2000 with Borders & Boundaries.

As a result, they finally became the power pop band they essentially wanted to be way back in 1992. They also did this amidst a cultural low and an industry crash. Their works during this era, Anthem, B is for B-Sides, In with the Out Crowd, and the Absolution for Idiots & Addicts EP showed a band trying to push forward into new territory despite an industry attempting to push them the other way. It was an awkward time to be following the band because you could feel the tension in everything they put out, but like a good band should they used it to put fire into their songs.

For instance, B is for B-Sides exists because Anthem had more tracks than what ended up on the album, some of which were far better than ended up on said album. Why? Because they were ska. Did you forget that record labels hated ska, at this point? The label cut the horns out of radio singles, and even an entire sax part of the one ska song they were actually allowed to release as a single. On In with the Out Crowd, the producer made them slow the songs down and added a pop punk gloss on the production along with a song co-written with Blink 182's Mark Hoppus. As a result, a band that was clearly moving forward was also being held hostage by its own label. Remember when labels were supposed to help bands reach their potential? That era was over by the mid-00s.

Much of how the band felt during this period was expressed on the song We, the Uninspired from their Absolution for Idiots & Addicts EP.

Hey, Miss 'Die A Little'
Cuts and bruises will always heal
But you still pick your poisons
When you dream of alcohol and pills
Hey, Miss 'Die A Little'
How do you expect yourself to live?

Punch me awake, we're the uninspired
There'll be no white flags over the heads
Of the sick and tired
This world is for the living not the dead
But we're still the uninspired

Hey Mr. 'Always Wonder'
Why's the inside of your head so filled?
Lest you can't see your future
Through all the walls that you've ever built
Hey Mr. 'Always Wonder'
How do you expect yourself to live?

Punch me awake, we're the uninspired
There'll be no white flags over the heads
Of the sick and tired
Maybe it's the standing still that kills
What's alive inside us?
This world is for the living not the dead
But we're still the uninspired

March me in with the rank and file
Bury me in deep denial
I'll sit here and gladly smile
With the rest of the uninspired

Punch me awake, we're the uninspired
There'll be no white flags over the heads
Of the sick and tired
Maybe its the standing still that kills
What's alive inside us?
This world is for the living not the dead
But we're still the uninspired
We're the uninspired.

This era, as mentioned later by members, nearly killed the band. You can very clearly understand why that is. Sonically they were finding themselves, but the record label pushed against them the whole way and nearly knocked them off course.

However, one member that wasn't burdened by this was the lyricist. Vinnie, after stumbling a bit with Borders & Boundaries retreading of old subjects in familiar ways, made that next step in this era. He moved on from wondering about the state of the world then to himself into trying to help the younger generation to avoid the mistakes he made. As you can tell by the above lyrics, he was attempting to use his own experiences as a way to move past where he was stuck.

This is most prevalent in their biggest actual single and the song that kept Anthem on the billboard charts for a long time even when nothing else on it sounded like them. The Science of Selling Yourself Short is rare in that it was a ska song released in the '00s that was a hit and not smothered by the record company or radio. It literally proved them wrong about everything: audiences liked and wanted ska and that the only stigma that existed came from the industry itself. Essentially it proved what we knew: the labels had no idea what they were doing.

It was also the perfect song to show just how far the band had come, and show how much potential they still had. Vinnie used his misspent youth as a warning sign to the younger generation, and as a way to realize important things about himself.

If you've heard a second song by this band, it was probably this one. For good reason.

The Science of Selling Yourself Short

I've come to my senses,
That I've become senseless,
I could give you lessons on how to ruin your friendships,
Every last conviction, I smoked them all away,
I drank my frustrations down the drain, out of the way.

So I sit and wait and wonder,
"Does anyone else feel like me?"
Someone so tired of their routines 
And disappearing self-esteems.

I'll sing along,
Yeah, with every emergency,
Just sing along,
I'm the king of catastrophies,
I'm so far gone,
That deep down inside I think it's fine by me,
That I'm my own worst enemy.

I could be an expert on co-dependency,
I could write the best book on underage tragedy,
I've been spending my time at the local liquor store,
I've been sleeping nightly on my best friend's kitchen floor.

So I sit and wait and wonder,
"Does anyone else feel like me?"
I'm so over-dosed on apathy and burnt out on sympathy.

I'll sing along,
Yeah, with every emergency,
Just sing along,
I'm the king of catastrophies,
I'm so far gone,
That deep down inside I think it's fine by me,
That I'm my own worst enemy.

Let the meaning slip away,
Lost my faith in another day,
Self-deprecation seems okay,
I never thought I'd make it anyway.

I'll sing along,
Yeah, with every emergency,
Just sing along,
I'm the king of catastrophies,
I'm so far gone,
That deep down inside I think it's fine by me,
That I'm my own worst enemy.

I'm my own worst enemy.

During this period Vinnie had been making great strides in his lyrics, but most of his focus appeared to be on the question of what actually is wrong with him on a fundamental level. Is there a devil in your DNA that causes you to do bad, or do you have personal responsibility? Even if you do believe in self-improvement, why do we always end up at square one when we least expect it? Is there something inside we are missing?

Many of his lyrics include searching for truth or finding your way in a broken world, but he still has yet to find solutions, most of which he readily expresses in the songs. Since this is a period where most rock lyrics summed up to being "Bush bad, God bad", it is refreshing that someone maintained a clear picture of what really mattered.

They never fell to the embarrassing lows of Goldfinger or the sellout cashing in of NoFX in the '00s, but instead wanted to find the truth. They didn't take the easy out so many did by demonizing someone else to find an easy explanation for their problems. In fact, I can't think of a single Less Than Jake song that is a rant against anything other than your own mistakes, everything they write about is for something.

Needless to say, once the band's major label contract ran out, so did they in 2006. As The Hives said, the industry was basically already dead by that point in time, anyway. They had nothing left to offer bands anymore that they couldn't get on their own. Less Than Jake were actually almost dead from their experience there.

However, they quickly rebounded with a unique idea. How about a series of shows where they play all their albums front to back? They can even perform it in their hometown. So, they did. Over a week in 2006 they played a series of concerts playing the entirety of Pezcore, Losing Streak, Hello Rockview, Borders & Boundaries, Anthem, and In with the Out Crowd, as well as rare songs and fan requests for encores. They ended up playing over 100 songs and reigniting the passion they had for playing music. They remembered why they were doing this to begin with. The band followed this up with a new album that came out in 2008, their first true independent album since 1995.

Unfortunately, the resulting album, GNV FLA (named after Gainesville, Florida) has a very common problem that holds it back from standing up with their best work.

You see, when bands went from the majors back to the indies in the late '90s and '00s, they all suffered from a similar issue. The band would try to "go back to basics" and throw out everything they had learned at the majors, thereby creating an album that feels forced and more artificial than the ones the bands put out on said major labels. Think about any band you know that did this and realize that their first album after leaving the majors is never your favorite one. This is always the reason why. It's never a natural progression, or even a holding pattern. It's always an inorganic regression.

Less Than Jake didn't escape this curse. They attempted to make a ska-punk album not fully aware that they were no longer a ska-punk band, and hadn't been since 1998 or so, which makes the resulting album feel very by-the-numbers and standard. Vinnie later said the same in how it is his least favorite LTJ album because it doesn't really sound organic or natural. The problems, however, are all sonically, lyrically they are as strong as ever and some of the songs still stand out quite well. It's also not a bad album, unlike many similar albums from other bands. It's just not much better than okay.

Lyrically, Vinny attempts to go back to the past in a different way. The album is called GNV FLA, and that's what the lyrics are mainly about. People who live and grew up in Gainesville and where they are now and what they're doing. He also spares a song for the plight of Detroit, wondering just how it could get so bad. The album essentially about the lives of normal people going about their day. But the lyrical highlight comes in what might be his best set of lyrics so far.

One thing the band always excelled at was that the closing track was always a barnburner. Every album they put out, the closing track is among the strongest they've written, by far. Even on a weaker album like this, the power pop anthem Devil in My DNA still stands tall. Essentially nailing everything he had been trying to express since he started as the Gen X kid trying to make his way in this world, the song sums up everything he's learned since then quite aptly.

When is common sense too much to ask?
And then when did consequences get left in the past?
Is it just bad habits or a typical script?
Is it all big plans then a hit and a miss?
Can I say my influence comes by design?
Or is science and cigarettes my compromise?
I don't know but I'm blaming everyone else,
Just as long as I never put the blame on myself.

Cause I know, I've wasted way too many times,
Living way too many lies,
How can this be my fault? 
I'm always right!

There's a devil in my DNA,
Programmed parts from all the start,
Or is there no one else to blame?
For my tangled up gears and my turnstile jobs,
Fact is, I'm just a living sum of all my parts!

When do instructions come with a catch?
And when is self-destruction just proven as a fact?
Is it just blind faith or the family name?
Is it all by chance or completely ingrained?
Can I say it's an imbalance of the chemical kind?
Or is my environment my only disguise?
I don't know but I'm blaming everyone else,
Just as long as I never put the blame on myself.

Cause I know, I've wasted way too many times,
Living way too many lies,
How can this be my fault? 
I'm always right!

There's a devil in my DNA,
Programmed parts from all the start,
Or is there no one else to blame?
For my tangled up gears and my turnstile jobs,
Fact is I'm just a living sum of all my parts!

Cause I know, I've wasted way too many times,
Living way too many lies,
How can this be my fault? 
I'm always right!

There's a devil in my DNA,
Programmed parts from all the start,
Or is there no one else to blame?
For my tangled up gears and my turnstile jobs,
Fact is I'm just a living sum of all my parts!

There's a devil in my DNA,
Programmed parts from all the start,
Or is there no one else to blame?
For my tangled up gears and my turnstile jobs,
Every one of my fears and for my fatal flaws,
Everything that I've battled and haven't I chased,
Cause you know there's a devil in my DNA.

As far as nailing yourself and what causes you to do the wrong thing, it doesn't get a whole lot more accurate than this, though there is a realization to come beyond it. We'll get there next.

Now this is when it gets interesting again. Most of the band's activity after this was relegated to live shows. It took 5 years for them to put out another album, the longest gap they had between albums up to that point. They put out some EPs, but most of it is fairly tossed off material. Then in 2013, Less Than Jake dropped their eighth album, the appropriately titled See the Light. It took some time, but it was worth the wait. This was their strongest album since Hello Rockview, for a multitude of reasons.

The first is that sonically they have finally found their footing. It's a power pop ska album with spikes of punk here and there. This was where they were destined to head after Hello Rockview and it is good to see them finally embrace the sound. The second is that they have gotten better as performers and musicians, which makes the power pop work where it struggled on a decade earlier on Borders & Boundaries. Every song save perhaps the rather stock opening track has a unique hook to it that will get into your head. Lastly, and definitely not least, are the lyrics. They are Vinnie's best to date.

The title See the Light is not ironic or joking, it is exactly what it says it is. The album is about finding faith from a generation that never had any, and the question of how can they achieve it.

The album starts with a declaration of what Gen X believed as kids in that it was about looking out for yourself and how that was good enough to get them by. However, as the album goes on and the songs pass you see how that attitude has left an entire generation broken and empty with nothing to aim or hope for. It has left them without any light. The album deals with getting older, realizing youth fades, and that there is still more to hope for beyond youthful poses.

The songs, even though they are near a decade old at this point, feel very relevant to today. Sunstroke deals with the neighborhood of his youth being demolished and paved over, effectively erasing a part of his identity. American Idle and Bless the Cracks deal with facing down that the way you grew up wasn't right or normal, but it is something that needs to be accepted and moved on from. Give Me Something to Believe In is about going through the motions of a dead life because you are frightened about what might happen if you stop and believe in something instead. My Money is On the Longshot is given away with the title. The album is about having faith and having trust despite coming from a place where you are unable to do that because of past experience.

But the crowning jewel on See the Light is John the Baptist Bones, a song about Vinnie's relationship with God. It literally opens up a contradiction in his old worldview that he realizes, and is what caused him to understand how faith might actually be more important than he thought it was as a kid. How much had he missed out because he sabotaged himself and never took those trying to help him seriously? Professional reviewers all but ignored talking about this one, for reasons I can only speculate about, but it is easily the most powerful song he has written, and it must have been hard for him to write. Listen to it yourself. It really should be heard.

John the Baptist Bones

Somebody said it's time for me to go,
No matter what's above or down below,
I've always known it, feel it my chest,
I've always only known the half of it.

I believe all these lines and phrases,
Are part of a plan that just never changes,
I always bite the hand that helps me up.

Somebody told us back when we were young,
Have faith in things that you will never touch,
I've always thought this, maybe I'll confess,
I think there's no plans, only accidents.

I believe all these lines and phrases,
Are part of a plan that just never changes,
I always bite the hand that helps me up.

The hand that helps me up.

I believe all these lines and phrases,
Are part of a plan that just never changes,
I've read through all these words on pages,
They make me believe I don't know what faith is,
I always bite the hand that helps me up.

The hand that helps me up.

This is a long way from the kid who said "Like it or not, I'm all I've got" nearly 20 years earlier. The song starts with him accepting that death is coming for him and realizing he has never really contemplated the bigger questions of if this is all for something. When he was a kid he rejected the idea given to him from his boomer parents, but as time has gone on he has realized that there is more to this than he originally thought. Just as he realized there is a devil in his DNA that disrupts his own plans and life beyond his own faults that there also exists another, greater plan that is far above what he knows or understands, because his own nature and lack of faith has always prevented him from seeing anything aside from his mistakes. But now that he sees what he's been missing, he can make the next step forward.

As the whole album is about coming to faith with the world and understanding your place in it, this is the key song on the album. It is even placed dead in the center, but reviewers mostly ignored it. Then again, it isn't as if the band was given that much attention by 2013, unfortunately. It's shame because it is a highlight of the album and one of their best songs, period.

I wish I could tell you where the band went after this, but it gets awkward from this point on. LTJ released an EP, and then in 2018, after over 25 years in the band, Vinnie left Less Than Jake. Wherever he was going next lyrically we'll never know because See the Light ended up being the last album he was involved with, though the songs Bomb Drop and Years of Living Dangerously on their 2017 EP is as good a departing shot as any. Nonetheless he was tired of touring and had a family to raise, so it was probably the right call.

He went on to form a multimedia project with some other old ska guys called The Inevitables. There is a whole backstory, comic project, and aesthetic behind it. Aside from it being a ska project, it isn't very similar to Less Than Jake. Nonetheless, if it gives him time to be with his family then it is worth checking out.

You can hear one of their songs here:

But Less Than Jake didn't stop there. In 2020 they released their ninth album, 25 years after their first, and first without Vinnie, Silver Linings. How did they do without him? Well, better than you would think.

Sonically, it is one of their best records. They have fully embraced their power pop ska sound and have turned their lyrics into positivity for the future. The entire band contributed lyrics to try and make up for Vinnie's absence, and while they don't reach his highs they do nail the feel and his intent. You can tell that even though Vinnie wrote the lyrics that the rest of the band believed in what he wrote, too. As a consequence, the album continues in the trajectory of moving forward. Now that they have all the pieces they can finally be who they are. If this was their last album I wouldn't be disappointed. It is a very good place to end things.

As an aside, I compiled a youtube playlist of around 50 of Less Than Jake's best songs spanning around 30 years from the formation up to when Vinnie left. It starts from a bunch of scrappy Gen X punks into the power pop ska band they would become. You can listen to it here.

The tracklist is here:

And that's where I'll also leave off.

Gen X has more or less left their past behind them and have moved on from their worst days. They are an example to follow. While Gen Y still swims in the past, the rest of the world has marched on without them, forgetting their presence. The generation before us even left blueprints to help us out, this despite their own troubles.

I don't even really listen to alternative much anymore, moving on from most of the things that just didn't move forward with me. You can die hundreds of times in life, it is called failure. But what is important is taking that failure and learning from it to forge a better future. Life is a constant uphill climb. If you're not climbing, you're sliding back down. The key is to never stop. Those who swim in the past are doomed to remain trapped there.

I abandoned most of my bad Gen Y habits years ago when I decided to search for something better than what was left around me. In the last five years alone I have released 5 books, not including short stories and non-fiction pieces, and I have no intention of stopping now. It's our duty to slay the devil in our DNA, take stock in our own talents, and push forward with all we've got. We can't allow the world to beat us, not when we have so much on our side to fight for.

We don't have to be a repeat of the Lost Generation, and we don't have to be passed over for the Millennials who are destined to run everything sooner than later. We can show our own worth right now.

It's a pulp future. Better get used to it. We may have started off on the wrong foot, but we don't have to stop there. As long as you keep going, who knows what might happen next?

Less Than Jake's most recent single