To outsiders, Southern Californians frequently appear to embody a very specific stereotype: laid back, weed-smoking surfers, eternally chill and affably shallow. Nevermind the shallowness employed in actually believing this stereotype, but as much as I’d like to wish it weren’t true, it still exists. In fact, my own wife was told her look was “So California,” at a hair salon in Virginia, the implications of which she didn’t particularly appreciate. But stereotypes can sometimes exist for a reason, and rather than evade them, a new breed of indie rockers from Wavves to Best Coast have, rather than shun the ideal, embraced it, taking ownership of stoned beach daydreams while playing a surf-inspired brand of garage rock that’s, for lack of a better description, very California.
Recent Sub Pop signees Jaill have likewise taken to this ideal, hammering out song after song of surfy garage twang, adding a superfluous consonant to their name and putting a beachgoing girl in a dolphin hat on their album cover. Funny thing about Jaill, though, is that they’re from Milwaukee. My guess is that the beach on the cover of That’s How We Burn is actually a shore of one of the Great Lakes, and they probably don’t do much surfing. But after hearing their Sub Pop debut’s 11 reverb-soaked guitar anthems, I’m ready to dub them honorary Californians.
Jaill’s brand of garage rock generally takes on a fun-loving and laid-back tone. They rock, certainly, but not with blistering intensity. It’s a melodic, mid-tempo kind of rocking, one that doesn’t necessarily hit the listener with a sudden impact, but sticks around long after the record has finished spinning. Yet its first track, “The Stroller,” is one of the rare tracks in which the band plays with a sharper edge, riffs slicing and slashing away beneath Vincent Kircher’s youthful vocals. It’s an oddly sinister opening, not to mention a totally badass one, yet the band doesn’t stay there too long.
On “Everyone’s Hip,” the sinister edge is traded in favor of a more lively power-pop sound. Guitars still careen, twist and dive, but with a major key glow that recalls early ’90s indie rock stalwarts such as Pavement or Superchunk, albeit through a filter of sea salt and ultraviolet rays. “On the Boat” even finds Kircher incorporating beach imagery, from “I saw that you’d made our likeness in sand” and “your surfboard’s so sleek.” They’re merely smaller cogs in a bigger narrative about adapting to changes in a relationship, but they can hardly be accidental. After all, this song sounds expressly written for being performed on the pier on a balmy summer night.
At the opening of “Snake Shakes,” Kircher sings “Turning off is easier said than done/ I can’t sleep, my jaw aches from not having any fun.” But you’d hardly know from the group’s guitar driven hedonism if there was any bumming out behind the scenes. Or, perhaps, That’s How We Burn is merely the band’s antidote. It can get awfully cold in the Midwest, and by creating a perpetual summer Southern California atmosphere, they’ve provided their own means of escape. Sometimes I take the year round warmth and ocean breezes for granted, but listening to Jaill certainly makes it all sound pretty appealing.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.