Foam Castles emerge with a Bonanza

Into the spotlight
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  May 16, 2012

If summer is the stuff of memories, then the music of Foam Castles has a way of helping to make them. Tyler Jackson, the band's main cog, is a mercurial sort of pop songwriter, and his songs seem to work best when mercury is rising. It makes him a rewarding artist to grapple with, and the fact that he fronts a weird, semi-revolving-door band of phenomenally good musicians makes the challenges, obscurities, and oddities cropping up in his pop obsessions even more compelling. So much about Bonanza, the band's fourth full-length record, screams "break-through" — the colorful cover, the title, the first verse of the opener — and if the album as a whole doesn't quite fulfill that promise, it's usually better off for it.

Much like last year's EP, the textural and kind-of transitional Come Over to My House, Foam Castles open the record with a straightforward single, the galloping and determined "Basement Dot." Jackson's lyrics can tend toward the cryptic, so the song's transparently earnest opening line becomes Bonanza's first checkpoint. "Today's the day that I throw shit out the door/set fire to my clothes," he intones before the band launches into the album's biggest, brightest chorus, wherein Jackson seem to revel in how those plans might go awry. It's a good, honest paean to the highs and lows of living with oneself — it might fry your brain with too many listens, but that's a subtle reinforcement of the theme. The song's hypnotic synth line is supported on the piano by new member Jimmy Dority, whose melodic support is the album's second great yield. Dority's presence provides the major difference between this version of Foam Castles and the others, which over the course of Bonanza allows the band to wriggle deeper into the subconsciousness of '60s pop.

Lest expectations get too high, it's somewhat appropriate that the band follow up "Basement Dot" with a couple of yawners. "Cousin Delores" picks things up again with a gorgeous surf-wave slow-burner, a song Jackson absolutely carries on a dreamy vocal line and a fuzzed-out guitar solo. It's Bonanza's first plunge into the pool of nostalgia, and it's a fine time for a swim. "Damsels" is an emotional gripper, a track that could easily fit amid the rock formulas on 2010's Molly's Jungle, with Jackson's vocals shaping expressionistic scenes from what appears to be a relationship's souring of trust. The elliptical vocal phrasing (and weirdo lyrics — is that a Huak reference?) of the 4/4 freakout "My Merona" tastefully quits itself early, unexpectedly yielding to a rather scrumptious section of warbly, mutated synth-pop.

Foam Castles have always seemed to be at their best — and, oddly, most purposeful — when out of the spotlight. Maybe appropriately then, it's the back end of Bonanza where a lot of the gems are buried. The pleasures of "Summer of Cuts" belie its inauspicious beginning (and ending, actually) and murmured chorus, where we find another of the record's most straightforward refrains ("you know you make it hard to love you"). "They Took It Away" floats dreamily along like the last song at a fantasy prom, its guitar line equally elegiac and exhausted. And "No Air Ever" is the record's sleeper hit, a two-minute love song with a menagerie of animal metaphors that reminds its listeners of the many things you can soundtrack the Jesus and Mary Chain to. A double-A-side seven-inch single of "Cousin Delores" backed with "No Air Ever" would make a finely distilled pop arm to Bonanza's sometimes sprawling body, and might fit snugly, for example, on the roster of a label like Mexican Summer, or any of the other labels issuing this sort of well educated and very American lo-fi pop.

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