As someone who’s worked in a second-hand record shop for several years, I can tell you that people who are obsessive about sixties music are often the most boring, dribbly-lipped morons you could hope to have mouth-breathe all over you while flicking through the racks (their breath usually smells like rotting Decca seven inch sleeves, in case you’re interested).
However, every now and then someone comes along who has channelled their love of that much masturbated-over decade into something sublime. Frank Maston is one of those people. His taste, based around the touchstones of Brian Wilson, The Beatles, Joe Meek, Phil Spector & Burt Bacharach, may have never made it much further than Altamont on the musical timeline, but rather than mould those influences into a charmless pastiche like so many before him he’s created something that really does sound like a lost relic from the era.
And not one of those “lost relics” that are listed for a hundred quid in Record Collector but sound like a stoned San Franciscan shitting on a tambourine either. His new album “Shadows” is an absolute beauty, and could hold its own against the heavyweights of that time. Expanding on some of the ideas hatched on his early cassette EPs (which in Maston’s case feels like a pretty futuristic format; it felt a bit wrong buying the bloody album on CD to be honest), the imaginative instrumentation and analogue recording gear provide that much sought-after “authenticity” in abundance.
The variety of sounds here is all the more impressive when you consider that Maston plays everything (save a single harp part) himself, taking the time to identify what created certain sounds on his favourite records and then learning to play those instruments from scratch. So far so Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, but unlike the celebrated Australian, whose records still have something of a modern sheen to them, you get the impression that if Maston had been around in the sixties he’d have created the EXACT same record.
It kicks off with ‘Strange Rituals’, a carnival waltz complete with hammed-up organ stabs and drunken brass, similar to Beach Boys curios like ‘Three Blind Mice’ or what the Doors might have knocked out when Jim Morrison’s bloated ego wasn’t around. Elsewhere, ‘Looks’ creates that ambiguous atmosphere of the best sixties psych, sweet and sinister at the same time like a beautiful trip that is only a bad tab away from turning into a nightmare, with some beautiful vibraphone laid on top of a clip-clopping beat.
He must share a few favourite records with Daniel Rossen and Bradford Cox too, as ‘Messages’ works with the same beautiful melodies and harmonies as the Department of Eagles/Grizzly Bear man, while ‘Judge Alabaster’ feels like a less Tramadol-ed Deerhunter. There are elements of Maston’s beloved Van Dyke Parks and Ennio Morricone in some of the arrangements too – he’s claimed he’s “gone months listening only to Morricone’s “Diabolik” score”, which is a pretty fine tutorial for any music-maker.
Sometimes, when selling another sixties freak three separate copies of the same Beatles record just because they have different matrices, I feel like screaming at them: “Why don’t you try something new?! You don’t have to transport yourself into the 21st century straight away, but at least move on a decade or two! Try something by The Fall, or Grandmaster Flash, or Blondie, or just bloody anything that isn’t “Forever Changes” for once!”
However, in Maston’s case I’d say the opposite. Stay there. Stay there in your sunny, paisley-shirted Californian time-capsule and keep producing this brilliant music. Seriously, if I ever see anyone give this guy a synthesizer I’ll fucking shoot them. Play on, brother.