It is almost impossible to discuss the music of Frank Maston without referencing his native Los Angeles and the psychedelic pop tradition of the 1960s. That being said, Shadows, released back in the spring via Chicago-based imprint Trouble in Mind, is not an easy record to classify. While it clearly owes some kind of debt to the production techniques of Phil Spector and the arrangements of Brian Wilson, it is hardly a neat fit within the West Coast cannon. After all, there is a certain sound one imagines when thinking of said tradition, and I’m willing to wager that descriptors like spooky, bizarre, paranoia and dread, do not generally figure into it.
Welcome then, to Maston‘s fun house of esoteric bedroom pop! Like the name suggests, Shawdows is a far cry from the care-free sunny harmonies of the Beach Boys. Rather, this is the Los Angeles of Phillip K. Dick. Like some sort of bad trip everything is kind of familiar, but in a strange and unsettling way, a shiny veneer masking something nebulous and vaguely sinister.
Even with a running time of just 27 minutes, there is a lot to take in, in fact this is the kind of record that demands repeat listens. The arrangements, which involve at different times: pianos, organs, guitars, various percussive instruments, horns strings and woodwinds (all of which Maston plays himself), are dense and sophisticated. Shuffling rhythms composed largely of various shakers and bells and tambourines underlie music box piano melodies, which swirl around surf rock guitars and sit uneasily in the creepy synthetic ambiance with outlandish big band horns. Maston‘s croon, which only features on about half of the songs, has a strange hollow quality, and is processed in a way that makes his melodies sound ghostly when they might have otherwise been sweet.
This is good stuff, probably one of the best records of the year. But don’t take my word for it…
“Flutter” from Shadows
“Young Hearts” from Shadows