Click to hear: “Sycamore”
It’s the time of year again when I start listening for the local release that’ll become the Soundtrack of the Summer. Through That Door, the new one by Tyler Jackson’s ever-evolving group Foam Castles, sets the bar so high that someone’s gonna have to release another freakin’ Pet Sounds to beat it for the honor this year.
Door offers 14 examples of nearly flawless indie-rock songcraft. It starts with “Inlet,” a sunny two-minute strummer with irresistible hooks and some great electric guitar that recalls David Kilgour’s tone on Left By Soft. This is followed by “Sycamore,” a rockier piece that delivers exactly the five-stroke guitar riff it makes you crave, then “Romasco Burnout,” a minute-long fragment of acoustic wonder written with Robert Pollard’s pen.
The album will be available digitally, but released at the end of this month (or first thing in June) on vinyl and cassette. So Side 1 appropriately ends with “There,” a heartachingly lovely ballad Jackson sings in his finest falsetto, and Side 2 starts with “Starting Over,” a piano-inflected gem that brings John Lennon to mind for more reasons than the title.
As a songwriter, Jackson has an excellent sense of when to quit. Almost all the tracks here are about two minutes long, or shorter. He makes his musical points and moves on without milking the choruses or indulging in any pro forma soloing. When Jackson does stretch out a little, as on the delicate and lovely “Punk Leg,” it’s well worth the time.
As a lyricist, Jackson’s still oblique, sometimes maddeningly so, though this makes the lines that do make sense all the more memorable, like his description of Madchen on “Song for Madchen,” the album’s wistful closer: “I like girls like you / freewheeling, never too drunk and always passin’ through.” Suddenly I remember girls like Madchen, too, and I’m glad she’s in this song.
Door is the fifth Foam Castles full-length, and easily the best. Granted, Jackson’s stacked the deck with ace players like drummer D.J. Moore and guitarist and keyboardist Tyler Quist, plus guitarist Oscar Romero (of the once-glorious Gully and, briefly, Brenda). I suspect that the only local record with a chance to top this one this season is the forthcoming sophomore release by Endless Jags, which contains three-quarters of Foam Castles’ current line up (Quist excepted). Hey, I never said this contest was fair.
— Chris Busby