On Jaill’s Sub Pop debut That’s How We Burn, Milwaukee’s preeminent slacker-rock band combs its hair, puts on a clean shirt, and remakes itself as a sleek, savvy engineer of guitar-pop should-be hits. Tightening up the casual, stoner-guy approach taken on previous releases—even transforming the tossed-off 5-year-old song “Everyone’s Hip” into a jumpy new-wave jam that A.C. Newman might want to consider plagiarizing—Jaill has built That’s How We Burn on a solid foundation of sinewy hooks and mile-a-minute bon mots tumbling from Vinnie Kircher’s jittery vocals.
The lean economy of That’s How We Burn is a testament to the years Kircher spent in his bedroom crafting clever pop songs that never found an audience. Highlights like the spiteful “Thank Us Later,” the marimba-accented “Baby I,” and the early-R.E.M.-inspired jangler “She’s My Baby” don’t have an ounce of fat on them, perhaps because the guy who wrote them has been starved for recognition for so long. The rush to get it all out now that people are finally paying attention gives That’s How We Burn some added oomph, particularly on the muscular lead-off track “The Stroller” and the pulsing “Snake Shakes.”
The steady stream of wiry guitar songs occasionally threatens to make That’s How We Burn a one-trick pony. Another crisp acoustic ditty like the charming “Summer Mess” would’ve broken up the twitchy blur of fuzzed-out ennui a little more. But Kircher can’t help being a natural at turning out insistently driving pop that works very hard at not seeming to work very hard. (One of the catchiest songs on the album, “Demon,” recalls Tommy Tutone’s “Jenny (867-5309).”) Jaill’s hard-working breeziness is what ultimately makes That’s How We Burn such an effortlessly enjoyable listen.