Click to hear: “Eastern Drawl”
In 2005, it was Satellite Lot’s masterful Second Summer. The next year, it was Cult Maze’s revelatory debut, The Ice Arena. This year, Foam Castles’ Night Crawling is the Local Rock Album of the Summer. Its lovely yet stormy, finely crafted and slightly damaged indie-pop is the perfect soundtrack to the season here in Maine, where the chill never recedes for long.
The creative core of Foam Castles is comprised of co-vocalists Tyler Jackson and Ritu Moondra, a young Portland couple due, sadly, to leave for L.A. this July. Jackson (who recently completed an academic internship with The Bollard) handles guitar and bass and adds some percussion. Moondra’s on Casiotone and microKORG, a digital keyboard prized for its ability to sound like an analog synthesizer.
The pair released a full-length album, Why We Walk, just a few months before Night Crawling. (Both are available for free download at foamcastles.com.) On Walk, Jackson and Moondra handled pretty much all the instrumentation. For this sophomore release they brought pianist Mike Beling and drummer Max Heinz aboard, in addition to some guest players, and now the band’s twice as good.
Walk has some strong songs, but Crawling is crawling with ’em. Nothing disappoints; nearly everything enchants.
The opener, “Eastern Drawl,” could be the feel-good hit of the summer (that is, if the gorgeous third track, “Shipwrecked Shores,” doesn’t hit first). Driving and infectious, “Drawl” is a sunny nugget of acoustic-electro pop that’ll win you over at once. Moondra’s sweet and unassuming vocals are a great counterpoint to Jackson’s flatter, more detached delivery, just as her loopy keyboard bits brighten his hard-strummed acoustic guitar here.
The second track, “Cylinders,” is a hazy, shimmering slab of noise-pop. “There is blue sky above the clouds all the time,” Moondra croons over a feedback-washed guitar figure and loping bass line. Remember that the next rainy June day.
The aforementioned “Shores” is July personified, with its languid melody and a chorus (“I’m just hangin’ around the shipwrecked shores”) so catchy that, like beach sand, it’ll be with you for days.
And you’ll be damned if the next song isn’t just as good. “Blue Toyota” has a killer bass-and-drum bed begging to be sampled, alternately soaring and scraping electric guitar, and a section during which Jackson, who produced and recorded the album, overlays about 30 seconds of barely discernable, apparently random conversation.
It works. Damn.
“Got to Find the Time” is a lazy pop gem made all the more lustrous by Tyler Card’s tenor sax, which also graces the end of “Shores” and the album’s mysterious closer, “Moths More Than One.” “Girl One” puts the same elements that make “Blue Toyota” a great song to a slower tempo. “There’s a girl who loves me but she’s far away,” Moondra sings, while Beling sprinkles piano notes around and every lonely guy in earshot sighs.
There’s plenty of diversity among the 13 songs. “Bones” has an indie-campfire-song feel not unlike the vibe put out by the South Portland supergroup Fire on Fire. “Hall of Records” is a brief psych-folk detour that turns poppy but never really pops. The mostly instrumental title track, full of African percussion and wafts of dreamy aaahhhs, functions as a pleasant sonic palette-cleanser.
Jackson, who reviewed several albums for The Bollard during his internship, deserves some critical shit himself for sounding like he’s singing on AM radio throughout Night Crawling. He should have more confidence in his voice, let us hear it un-effected a few times.
And some lyrics make you suspect Foam Castles is cribbing from one of Stephen Malkmus’ Mad Lib pads. Like this passage from “Got to Find the Time”: “You were thinkin’ ’bout your catacombs / your treasure troves / your drippin’ robes / I know this ‘cause everybody knows / the reason for the automatic weapons in the bar.” Fa?
But that’s inside baseball. Night Crawling is a stellar album. Bring it to the beach, play it at the barbeque after the joints come out, listen to it on your iPod while you skateboard down Spring Street after midnight.
Hell, it’s free.
So thanks for this too, Tyler, and best of luck in L.A. Don’t let Foam Castles wash into the Pacific.
Foam Castles may or may not get a live show together later this month. Check this site for updates.