Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s psych-pop outfit Jaill have been around the block more than a few times, though anyone who fails to notice this can be forgiven. Despite almost a decade of activity, Jaill only recently put out their first LP, 2009’s There’s No Sky (Oh My My). And even taking that into account, the band plays like a bunch of kids just out of college with energy to burn, disguising their experience. So it only seems natural to look at their latest release, That’s How We Burn, in the context of emergence. And although it may be cheating to bill Jaill’s sophomore effort as such, if this is the album that introduces them to the world at large, it is one noteworthy first impression.
Continuing the emergence theme, it would be hard to evaluate That’s How We Burn in anything other than the context of 2010’s most burgeoning acts; and surprisingly it seems to fit best into the latest surf-rock wave. Pretty much the last place you’d expect the surf-rock sound to pop up would be a place like Milwaukee, but with That’s How We Burn, the Midwest may have found its own type of surf-rock sound, blending in well with noteworthy 2010 releases from Surfer Blood and The Soft Pack.
But despite their similarities to the aforementioned bands, Jaill doesn’t exactly fit into the typical surf-rock box. After all, Jaill were around long before the current surf wave crashed into the beach. While Jaill keep the addictive hooks and smooth flow of contemporaries like Wavves, That’s How We Burn takes on a considerably more paranoid tone than one would expect from a bro on a long board in Malibu. Think Surfer Blood as fronted by Billy Corgan.
The album’s debut track, “The Stroller,” is a tense walk through mistrust, anxiety and claustrophobia. The surf-rock sound is ever-present underneath the track, but the easy-going nature is hidden. Even in “Everyone’s Hip,” one of the album’s more upbeat tracks, a tone of pessimism streaks in, with lyrics “Pity bitter rapid pace rapidly changed to fit our tastes / Every effort endlessly expecting to have been in vain” reflecting a nihilistic streak. Why does work matter when it will just end up molded by a fickle world? Jaill create the impression that if they were on a beach in Hawaii, they could hit the waves not for the thrill or the rush but because there simply is no reason not to.
This may make That’s How We Burn sound like half an hour of depression, but the downtrodden message of Jaill’s lyrics actually fits well with its surf-rock underpinnings. Instead of creating a sort of stark dissonance between the album’s lyrical and musical sides, Jaill take the two seemingly counter ideas and make them fit together in a package that is not just tolerable but almost awkwardly pleasing. By the time the album reaches its concluding title track, the predominant feeling is more in line with satisfied bemusement than catharsis.
Jaill have made this album the ultimate coping mechanism, not just disguising some of the despairing elements of life under a few catchy beats, but melding them together into one. This is not just a spoon full of sugar to make the medicine go down, but instead more of a hallucinogenic drug to make pain a distant memory. Mary Poppins, Jaill has one-upped you.