On his first release since 2013’s Shadows, producer Frank Maston has created a sample-ready score to a film that doesn’t exist. His new album, Tulips, lives competently in a space between Ennio Morricone and French New Wave, never comfortable being lumped into any specific genre yet also feeling reminiscent of sounds that came before it.
If required to be officially categorized, Tulips has a decidedly Italian feel to it, both in sound and composition. A track like “Turning In,” with its percussive bongo beats and synth arpeggios, harkens back to the Pino Donaggio scores of the ‘70s like Carrie or Don’t Look Now, but with the added element of advanced studio techniques not available at the time in cleaning up the sound. Maston keeps the mix nice and warm on these tracks to give the nostalgia extra bite, but the overall sound is more lively than the often muted scores of the ‘70s.
The guitar playing and recording on this album is superb. On “Swans,” Maston makes great use of warbly Fender-style vibrato and reverb, providing a dreamy ‘60s psych quality. With “Evening,” he takes a completely different approach, using slow wah pedal movements to envelop the beginning of each bossa-nova phrase. He uses a similar technique on “Hues,” still opening each phrase with a strum, but using vibrato and heavy reverb to accent the electric organ melody.
An album with such catchy hooks really deserves a longer release, and I hope Maston will revisit some of these tunes on a later release (or put them to film). Most of the tracks are less than 2 minutes long, only giving a quick taste of the overarching groove and melody. Still, it’s all quality songwriting so no real complaints.
Maston knows how to produce a solid record, as evident by the overall even feel of the album. Each instrument has its own space, carefully scooting into the mix when needed, then tactfully stepping back into the shadows. This is quite a feat; Maston creates a living soundscape with each song, mixing together the natural and synthetic without ever losing the clarity needed for proper balance. It’s clean without being too sterile and doesn’t sacrifice warmth for a muddy mix.
The overall aesthetic of Tulips is simple and clean with very little fluff. I like it, but the sparseness doesn’t necessarily convey the wide array of sounds on the album. The wax itself is 180-gram black vinyl and features a label that matches the sleeve.
Tulips is available on 180-gram black vinyl at Phonoscope Studios.