Jaill Traps

[Sub Pop; 2012]

Styles: indie rock, power pop, (aparently) psych-pop
Others: Panda Bear (ascribed), New Pornographers (unintentionally)

For all intents and purposes, I know that press releases/band descriptions are supposed to feel like super-, hyper-, ultra-, mega-inflated bullshit. I’ve seen, read, and even written many. It’s understandable to some extent: a record label’s got a record to sell, so of course they’re gonna inflate the language a bit and hype it to you as the greatest masterpiece ever. Despite all of this, I find that while listening to Jaill’s Traps, I kept referring to Sub Pop’s press for the album. As I listened, I found myself trying to decide what commits the crime of “metaphor abuse” worse: the press release or the album itself. I’ll provide a bit from both.

Press release:

It’s an acerbic exercise in both humility and aggression. Lyrically and melodically it portrays the malfunctioning universe inside a home, taking into account the myriad ways in which relationships and responsibilities can destroy a person’s mind. […] His (singer Vinnie Kircher) resignation to the failed road ahead is all over Traps, from the sarcastic slap of the drum-machine snare in “Horrible Things (Make Pretty Songs),” to the recurring, sounding-like-a-broken-Slinky riff of album opener “Waste a Lot of Things.”

First offender is “the sarcastic slap of the drum-machine snare.” What does that mean? There is no qualifying measure for an amount of “sarcasm” a drum machine can exude. It can be used ironically perhaps (as if in let’s imagine Jaill wanted to change direction and go all Midwest white-guy rapper on us), but this is not the case. All the drum machine does on “Horrible Things (Make Pretty Songs)” is sound like a drum machine. Second offender is the whole “broken-Slinky” thing. The riff in “Waste a Lot of Things” just sounds like a guitar riff. It could be better described as “angular, yet melodic,” but for the life of me, I hear no “broken-Slinky.” The author could have said “bent ‘stop’ sign,” and it would have made just as much sense.

I could keep going (there is enough material to warrant an academic paper in the way of illustrating the effect of the “desensitized metaphor” in modern music hype), but I want to move to the album itself.

While Traps’ metaphoric crimes aren’t as extreme as its press, the album runs itself amok with clichés and phrases that try to come off as “smart” or “clever” but generally find themselves coming off as neither. “Everyone’s A Bitch” is so tied up in capturing its own sardonic emotiveness that it fails to express any kind of sentiment that feels relatable. The lines “Then she calls me vanilla sex life/ Didn’t know she wanted rocky road” are good examples of this failed cleverness. If the song’s meant to “capture the portrait of a drunken man whose sex life has faltered,” it fails. If it’s meant to be edgy, it’s not. The best work about terrible people allows you to examine them and, in some strange way, relate; “Everyone’s A Bitch” does not even come close to this capability. The song sounds crass in its ability to express whatever it’s trying to express, and like a drunk guy yelling at a bar, the emotion associated is overridden by the guy’s inability to not act like an asshole.

More bad metaphors abound in tracks like “House With Haunting,” where the target is referring to unwanted house guests as haunting ghosts. “While You Reload” contains a horrendous metaphor of self-pity, the singer portraying himself as being treated like a dog (“You don’t need protecting/ And I’m a bad dog nonetheless/ Would have let you clip my nails/ If you’d only asked”). This album is so soaked in self-pity that a track called “Madness” seems like a given. “Stone Froze Mascot” is a bad metaphor in and of itself — more self-pity, more of the same.

Sound-wise, the album could use work, too. Sure, there are moments of well-panned guitar noises and other studio/recording effects, but it ultimately fails to have an impact. “Madness” sounds like The New Pornographers; in fact, there’s a female voice that “ooh’s” exactly like Neko Case. Hell, for all I know, it might be Neko Case, but there are no track credits given, so I’m going to assume it’s someone mimicking the role. And all of this criticism comes from someone who likes it when artists rip each other off. It just happens in a way where instead of feeling like “oh, they totally took that and made it awesome,” it just comes across as “this is unintentionally sounding like Supergrass.” My other question is since when did this sound get associated with psych pop? As I alluded to The New Pornographers, it sounds more like an exercise in indie rock/power pop. A weird noise shifted to the right speaker does not constitute psych pop, and I hear no influence of such throughout the whole album. Honestly, the label feels more like a marketing-ascribed term, as “psych” and “garage” are currently hotter buzzwords than “power pop” or something else that would fit better. I am your garden variety garage/psych enthusiast/collector/obsessive, and I find nothing of such influence to draw off of for Traps. Maybe in some sort of extremely broad general sense, but “rock” or “pop” or the sound-ambiguous title of “indie” would do just as well.

Take what I say with a grain of salt (by the way, that right there is the proper way of using a clichéd metaphor). Generally, I tend to take issue with bands that try to be “clever.” Jaill acts like a “clever” band, neatly printed and packaged to be presented as oh-so. From the extra ‘l’ in the band’s name (read the Wikipedia explanation), to the chiaroscuro photograph of a plastic safari dude on their cover, to the sort of “drunken dude angry at his girlfriend” kind of sarcastic sentiment, all this seems like a faux-pastiche in “cleverness.” Traps is not as it is described, “an adorably grumpy bear just awoken from his long winter’s slumber, with a mangy heart rarely found outside of the stuffed animal bin of a Salvation Army.” That is the work of a very colorful (and probably similar to myself) wordsmith. No amount of words can support an album more than it is able to do itself, and (to make a metaphorical image) the flourish around it seems like someone trying to hold their drunken, screaming friend up from off the ground.

Are you sick of metaphors yet?

Links: Jaill - Sub Pop

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