Steeped in the same breed of dark American pictorial songwriting that made up Van Dyke Parks' travelogue pop journals and the more tragic moments in the careers of both Wilsons Dennis and Brian, California-based multi-instrumentalist Frank Maston offers up a collection of pleasantly backwards-looking pop on his proper debut full-length, Shadows. From the slapback delay and miscellaneous percussion of instrumental album opener "Strange Rituals," you know what you're getting into with this album. Nods to Pet Sounds in production, instrumentation, and even melodies are blatant and unabashed, with the compressed beauty of that album being a clear starting point for much of Shadows. While songs like "Young Hearts" and "Night" are deeply indebted to all eras of the Beach Boys (ranging from All Summer Long to Pacific Ocean Blue), the album takes cues from a greater lineage of California pop. Hyper-compressed walls of sound like "Messages" evoke Phil Spector's jam-packed mid-'60s productions, while "(You Were) In Love" even calls up some of the playful energy of Harry Nilsson. Split between equal parts hopeful songcraft and ominous undercurrents, Shadows is an apt title for the album. The large percentage of instrumentals creates a lot of negative space for the listener to fill in, and the distant production tucks Mellotrons and blissful horn sections into dimly lit corners, willfully obscuring the tunes in spooky layers of reverb. While jumping off from a Pet Sounds/Song Cycle perspective, the creeping anxiety of Maston's songs sets them apart from being mere mimicry, and add to the shadowy landscape. Still, the '60s influence is so heavy indeed that a song like "Judge Alabaster" sounds almost out of place, its pulsing rhythm and reverb-coated vocals having more in common with the 2010s Slumberland roster than the late-'60s Southern California popsike set. Somewhere between an imagined past and a shaky connection to the present, Maston has created a place outside of time. His songs come on like they're peaceful, with gentle tambourines and throwback organ tones, but inside their shadowy interiors they're actually so uptight, brimming with a strange darkness that's both bewitching and unsettling.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas