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Opal Collection Jeremy Allen , December 18th, 2014 11:42

Like Italian ice cream, Guatemalan coffee and heroin from Afghanistan, there's just seems to be something so authentic and alluring about sunshine pop made in Southern California. Brian Wilson understood it. Charles Manson - who hitched in from Cincinnati, Ohio - didn't. Frank Maston gets it. The multi-instrumentalist has been nurtured like a Cabernet Sauvignon grape in some prime Napa Valley poop, with his 2013 album Shadows belying its titular tenebrousness with the sheer radiance of its musical playfulness. Marrying up fluffy light psychedelia with effulgent banda brass from across the border, Shadows - released via Trouble In Mind - sounded like a delectable, mariachi-driven ice cream van coming over the hill.

The Opal Collection then, is the badder older brother of the aforementioned debut, made up of EPs released before Shadows, which came out exclusively on tape. These arcane delights seemed almost certain to remain that way until Stroll On Records stepped in to give them a full release, and it's a good job they did. Little here - aside from lead track 'Gold Leaf' - feels quite as immediate as the songs on the other record, but that's not to say they're not without their own considerable - and considerably peculiar - charms. On Opal Collection, the diminished chord is king, and Maston seems to spend much of his time marrying it up with other more easily digestible chords, creating an ambience of amiability one moment, and then tension the next. Like the best music, a magical gossamer world is spun, and Maston plays the neat trick of presenting ostensible normality, which under closer scrutiny begins to suggest there might be something creepy lurking below, like some wholesome American post-war sitcom set in the hinterland of familial respectability that can barely hear itself over the canned laughter.

All is not quite what it seems, which is confirmed on the track 'Potemkin' (there's a clue in the title), a rich and cheerfully jaunty number that conceals regret within its lyrics. 'Over The Falls' is suitably melty, with an unusual melody that becomes rather addictive with repeated plays. There are great instrumental tracks here too, like 'The Companion', featuring lavish jingles, pedal steel and a touch of theremin to make you think of commodious 1950's lunatic asylums. 'Well' introduces us to plenty of harpsichord weirdness, while 'Wish' is spidery and cosmic, with an ethereal organ swathed over the top to give it that otherworldly quality. Quite often it's hard to put your finger on why it's all so unsettling, like advertising from another era that just doesn't compute, or a Beach Boys song that's bizarre thanks to its utter stiffness. There's some of that at play here, though Frank is certainly a lot cooler than Mike Love or Al Jardine ever were.

Maston, with his hipster tache and penchant for analogue equipment, is certainly an interesting enough character, and his innate musical ability saw him hook up with Dutch baroque pop prodigy Jacco Gardner last year for touring and recording purposes. Whether or not time spent immersed in European culture, and specifically being holed up in Amsterdam with Gardner, will influence his future music remains to be seen, but one should get plenty of pleasure out of the lurching, sublime California dreaminess of Opal Collection while we wait to see what comes next.

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