Traps is Jaill’s third record, and second for Sub Pop. They’re coming off their most successful album yet, 2010’s That’s How We Burn, which allowed them to tour both the United States and Europe. By most measures, this should be a high point for the Milwaukee, Wisc., outfit that got to where they are only after considerable hustle. But despite all that, Traps is the group’s most transparently depressed album to date, and it’s not a good look.
While Jaill have always dwelled in darker lyrics, their curtain of sarcasm is mostly withdrawn. Just two years after releasing the tongue-in-cheek “Everyone’s Hip” on That’s How We Burn, they named the second track on Traps “Everyone’s A Bitch.” But it’s not enough just to judge them by their titles. Instead of treating its hook like the lure it should be on “Everyone’s A Bitch,” they draw it out into the verse where it loses all appeal. In the chorus, singer Vincent Kircher bemoans the loss of his girl, who apparently disliked his “vanilla sex life.” Intentionally or not, his being overly “vanilla” seems to be a running theme.
The album’s second half picks up a bit, starting with “I’m Home” and its healthy dose of fuzz distortion. “Madness” adds a tidy pop exercise with the help of a female backup singer. Despite its role in bidding adieu to another lost love, “Million Times” actually works well as a sweltering rock-bottom that doesn’t overdo it—it’s one of the lightest and most natural songs on the record, perhaps because it actually warrants its slow pace.
“House With Haunting” is the closest they come to a pop hit worthy of their back-catalog, and it’s no coincident that it’s also one of the few times when the bass goes on a riff of its own and lets the keys and guitars occupy their own space. It’s an amenable take on blues-rock, with a piping organ and sharp-pointed guitar. It’s similar to the album’s last song, “Stone Froze Mascot,” in that they do their best Black Keys impression before plunging into a summery doo-wop chorus. But in the end, “Stone Froze Mascot” lacks a signature hook, and “House With Haunting” suffers from the same problem as the rest of Traps: I just can’t fight the feeling that someone put a rock on the record and this thing is actually supposed to be spinning much faster.
Nearly every song feels like an appeal for an arena filled with fans holding lighters aloft—a cinematic moment in which everything around you slows down. But more often than not it just comes off as either needlessly melodramatic or watered down to a state of vanilla. And while they might have had grand visions in mind, at the end of the day Traps doesn’t sound like it was all that affecting or fun for anyone.