Milwaukee is not the ideal place from which to gather inspiration, especially the positive type. Its sports teams are consistently maddening, its weather is fucking awful for seven months per year and you can really only love the city and call it home if you drink. A lot. I know all of this because I call it home.
Thus, it’s kinda hard to believe that Jaill are from Milwaukee for two reasons: 1.) Few bands have ever gotten famous enough to be mentioned in a publication outside of the Journal-Sentinel or the Onion (exceptions: Violent Femmes and the Gufs, the latter of which probably doesn’t count anymore), and 2.) These guys sound like they’ve been brought up in the UK based upon the music found within That’s How We Burn, the group’s second release and first for Sub Pop.
That is, the band most assuredly plays American music – mainly surf rock – but their sound is just as much influenced by what’s going across the Atlantic. The simplest, though perhaps not the most accurate, way to think of Burn is a cross between ’60s surf rock (think early Beach Boys) and modern UK rock (think the Rapture). Certainly the former carries more weight with these guys. The majority of the record, most notably ‘How’s the Grave,’ ‘Baby I’ and the title track, is pure California sunshine. Even when there are layers of Wisconsin clouds, as with ‘Thank Us Later,’ the band manages to ensure that there’s at least a single ray of hope by incorporating retro-sounding production and arrangements. I didn’t think modern bands knew that the acoustic guitar could be used as a rhythm instrument as it once was.
As for the UK rock portion, opener ‘The Stroller’ and ‘She’s My Baby’ are the two front-runners here. The former contains a jittery riff reminiscent of the Futureheads, while the latter has the best dance-punk groove this side of Franz Ferdinand. And when the band mixes the two at a 1:1 radio, as on ‘Demon,’ the results are equally stunning. Opening with a skittishly hyperactive guitar lick, the song builds to a SoCal-bathed chorus that’s the closest these guys get to writing an arena rock song.
Which brings us back to Milwaukee. The album’s opening lyric from Stroller’ is “There’s cracks in the structure/ I said, ‘Baby, get out.’” That same song later asks, “Where are the beggars when I need to look good?” Those two lines sum up That’s How We Burn so damn well: Under an admittedly superficial sunny demeanor lies a cynical underbelly waiting to be released. It’s a juxtaposition that works because Jaill are aware of just how bizarre of a dichotomy their songwriting is because they hail from a city that only the misanthropic and the drunk adore. So they decided to play up the bitter humor as much as possible. And it works – almost too well considering the pessimistic outlook. That’s either true genius or true insanity. But, I suppose it doesn’t matter given how much fun this record is.