Traps brings out the Milwaukee band's psych influences more than ever.
Back when Jaill was only “Jail” and were infrequently playing shows around Wisconsin, I was a fan. Their brand of toughened up power-pop-infused rock ‘n’ roll delighted me. I tried to get to a couple, but plans always fell through. However, on multiple occasions I was fortunate enough to see their brother band, the genre-defying the Goodnight Loving (they shared members), whom I loved fiercely and to no end. Whenever anyone would ask me to compile a list of the best WI bands, recorded or live, the Goodnight Loving were always towards the top. When it came to best songs, “Colin Attends a Party”, “Dead Fish on the Banks”, and especially “Drag” ranked quite high. I forgot about Jail. Then, seemingly at random, they struck a deal with Sub Pop, which meant the slow and devastating demise of the Goodnight Loving.
Then Jail had to add the extra l for legal purposes and started playing out regularly. When I finally saw them after a lineup shift, I had high expectations and was disappointed. A few months later, after another shift in the lineup, I saw them again and was impressed at their improvement but still not completely taken, which is exactly how I felt about the majority of their first LP for Sub Pop That’s How We Burn, a step down from their first LP, There’s No Sky (Oh My My). After a few more lineup shifts, we find ourselves here at Traps, the band’s most experimental LP to date and second release for Sub Pop.
Traps starts off promisingly enough with “Waste a Lot of Things”, a wonderfully restrained pop song that coasts by on guitar and vocal melodies with a heavy dose of charm. Unfortunately, the ensuing tracks “Everyone’s a Bitch” and “Perfect Ten” sound stale and uninspired for the majority of their runs. It’s not that they’re poorly written songs, it’s that they don’t connect to anything. They’re songs that drift along purposelessly and have a few tricks thrown in to keep the listener listening for something bigger. That something never really comes and Traps seems like it’s headed for disaster up until the wonderfully titled “Horrible Things (Make for Pretty Songs)”.
“Horrible Things (Make for Pretty Songs)” is another example of a charming slow-burner that exercises a fair amount of restraint. There’s a weird 1970s AM-pop radio influence running throughout the song that suits Jaill incredibly well. That influence is only further punctuated by a Hawaiian-tinged guitar solo towards the song’s end. After that, things pick up a little with the driving “I’m Home”, where Jaill finally connects invention to craft and sound briefly re-energized as the band squeezes as much out of it as possible. Their strength in restraint is again evidenced in the ensuing track, “House with Haunting”, a fun and eerie little number that showcases some of the band’s more buried influences and capabilities.
Unfortunately “Madness” and the first half of “Million Times” return to drifting along purposelessly and end up sounding very tired very quickly, before the brilliant second half of “Million Times” kicks in. It’s Traps’ strongest moment for not only accurately displaying what Jaill can do, but for being inventive, unique, and original. It helps that it comes at exactly the right moment as well and saves the record from sinking too far into bland territory. Despite the best efforts of the ensuing tracks, it’s a moment that can’t be replicated.
Traps ends on the three-song run of “Ten Teardrops”, “While You Reload”, and “Stone Froze Mascot”. Of the three, the first and last fall into the charming and replayable category while “While You Reload” again falls by the wayside and ends up as relatively unnecessary and forgettable. “Stone Froze Mascot” does manage to end Traps on a very high note, an indicator that the band knows how to aptly connect its harder moments with its slower ones. On the whole, Traps is definitely worth a listen, but it’s clear that the band can do much better.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Notes from the Road
"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.READ the article