Judging from the bloody sunset on his album cover and the nuclear winter depicted in his video for “Messages”, Frank Maston must fancy himself some sort of weird hybrid of Brian Wilson and Cormac McCarthy. But it’s the former that emerges victorious on his full-length debut, Shadows. There’s nothing disaffected, violent, or sterile about this suite of baroque bedroom pop, a 27-minute wall of sound that harkens back to Phil Spector, Van Dyke Parks, and of course, Wilson, with its rich tapestry of organ, tympani, woodblocks, and brass.
One could argue that the record is foreboding, that Maston takes a Blue Velvet approach by juxtaposing lush presentation with unsettling subject matter. But the words on Shadows seem to center on loneliness rather than ugliness. “I know your heart is blue because mine is too,” he pines on “Young Hearts”. “Messages” is equally as lovelorn, although the lyrics are difficult to decipher beneath its desert mirage of warbling harmonies and Spaghetti Western harmonica. If there’s a tornado brewing beneath the yearning, we’re not able to hear it.
“Night” goes as far to imply that Maston ultimately obtains the object of his affection. The album closer ends with the simple, yet effective final line of “you love me too,” as the last echo of slap-delayed xylophone fades into the decidedly bloodless sunset. Even if Shadows isn’t the apocalyptic masterpiece Maston set out to make, it’s still a minor triumph from a musical prodigy on the rise. Besides, contemplation has its virtues; most people would rather feel melancholy than scared.
Essential Tracks: “Young Hearts”, “Messages”