"Whatever is running down the pipe on Pitchfork is, I guarantee, not what we're listening to," Jaill drummer Austin Dutmer tells the Scene. "So we're kind of in this, like, weird nether region where I don't think anybody knows how to define [us]."
Pitchfork, however, did try to define the upper-Midwestern power trio: "For those of a certain age, liking the kind of music Jaill makes — alternately classified as power-pop or jangle-pop — was once a golden ticket to coolness," the taste-making Web publication said in a review of the band's latest, Traps. (Pitchfork rated the album a 6.8 out of 10, if you must know.)
One thing that sets Jaill apart from their blogworthy contemporaries is that their single-noun-based band name wasn't, as it seems, picked by throwing a dart at a dictionary. Hailing from snowy Milwaukee, the band spends six months a year living an existence similar to state-mandated confinement. "That gives us a lot of time to be inside and to really hone our craft," Dutmer says of the long winters the band waits out by writing, rehearsing and recording its playfully sardonic pop gems. "I think there's a lot of cynicism in the music that probably is a direct result of our climate."
It's true — the band's tightly wound, exuberant guitar pop does draw obvious comparisons to left-of-dial, American-model power-pop progenitors like The dB's, The Nerves and The Embarrassment. And lead singer Vinnie Kircher's wry, nasal delivery bears more than a little resemblance to that of Gordon Gano, frontman of forbearing Milwaukeean quirk masters The Violent Femmes. But Dutmer says that doesn't make them too cool. "We're all pretty, for a lack of a better term, boring people," he admits.
"We all vibe super-hard on the classics," says Dutmer, namedropping universal pop-rock influences like The Beach Boys, Cheap Trick, The Cars, ELO, The Beatles and the Stones. And when it comes to indie-rock influences, the band looks to the classics as well, citing Sebadoh and Pavement as favorites. That, you might say, makes Jaill a good fit for the Sub Pop Records roster.
"It just kind of makes the skies more blue," Dutmer says of signing to the indie-rock dynasty label. "There's more of a love for everything happening."
Traps, Jaill's third LP and second for Sub Pop, is the fairly straightforward band's most ambitious offering to date, with songs like the hard-groovin', harmonically twisted "Perfect Ten," the wistful lost-relationship lament "Horrible Things (Make Pretty Songs)," the psychedelic, vaguely Tropicália-sounding "Madness" and the Stones-y, bouncy ballad "While You Reload" adding moody contrast to upbeat, breezy rockers like album opener "Waste a Lot of Things" and the pure pop of "Ten Teardrops."
Instead of going into the studio and swiftly bashing out a set of pre-written, fully formed songs as they'd done on their previous records, 2009's There's No Sky (Oh My My) and 2010's That's How We Burn, the band stretched out the Traps sessions over a period of months, writing and recording, then taking breaks from the studio to add fresh ears and a slight benefit of hindsight to the re-recording and self-editing process.
"For much of the recording of the record, we had no idea what songs were gonna be on it," Dutmer says. "This time around it was very much like sneaking through the dark."
Braving that process, the drummer says, explains the album's title and cover art, which depicts a mustachioed mannequin head, wearing an explorer's helmet and emerging from pitch blackness.
Despite the band's sonic maturity, its attitude remains one that fills the room with an atmosphere of beers and lazy-day bong hits in a messy apartment, thanks to cuts like the rollicking "Everyone's a Bitch" and "I'm Home," the latter of which features lyrical references to acid-eating imaginary vampires and playing air guitar.
"Some bands will be like, 'I make music, but I also smoke bongs and play video games,' " Dutmer says. "We don't really do that. We're more like, 'Hey, let's smoke bongs and play music.' "
Do these guys know how to party or what?