Frank Maston’s Tulips is a sample-ready film score to the best 70s movie never made. Originally a super-limited self-release on his Phonoscope label in late 2017, Tulips has already become incredibly sought-after. Be With were introduced to Maston by mutual friends Aquarium Drunkard and it didn’t take long before we decided this modern classic deserved a reissue.
Inspired by the deep-grooving soundtracks of Italian cinema - think Morricone, Umiliani and Alessandroni - Maston conceived the entire Tulips project as a continuation of these revered works. Frank designed the artwork and made two 16mm films to accompany the music: “It wasn’t just the LP… it was kind of a whole vibe I was trying to create. Not really trying to emulate the things that influenced me but more trying to make something that could sit alongside those records on a shelf. I’m still very proud of the project.”
There’s a distinct library music feel too, with wiry organ, spacey keyboards and loping 60s guitar hinting at KPM and DeWolfe. Like the best library music, Tulips creates a cinematic universe through sound alone, evoking moving images in the listener’s technicolour imagination. It turns out that was accidentally on purpose: “I was discovering a lot of library music for the first time… listening to a composer’s entire catalog or finding all this obscure stuff. I wasn’t entirely conscious of the influence until I started making this music and realized I was channeling the vibe. That’s when I began focusing more on weaving melodic themes throughout the record to make it function more like a soundtrack”.
Tulips was recorded between 2015 and 2017 in a small studio in a village called Zwaag in Holland, during downtime from Frank’s touring duties with Jacco Gardner’s band. “Tulips” comes from the title of the very first demo he made in Holland, it was the first thing that came to mind. Makes sense.
Recording in Europe with some very European influences in mind, Frank wanted to eschew any American influences. But we can still feel the studio wizardry of the likes of Brian Wilson and Harry Nilsson in there somewhere. A psychedelic bedroom-pop song-cycle, full of hypnotic hooks and dusty drums, Tulips manages to sound charmingly homemade yet wholly widescreen.
Dreamy opener “Swans” is an exquisite soul instrumental and recalls the soft-psych of Koushik, which Be With loves of course. Tropicalia influences abound in the cool and breezy “New Danger” and the KPM-references are loud and proud on the lush organ pop of “Old Habits”. Fast-paced “Chase Theme No. 1” manages to be both tense and laid back, decorated by acid-drenched spaghetti Western guitars. The glorious Gainsbourg-esque melancholia of “Infinite Bliss” is all gauzy flutes and happy-sad vocalizing and the title is almost perfect: it’s bliss, no question; if only it went on forever. Side A closes with “Evening”, a subtle bossa nova beat thing. Gorgeous.
Side B opens with the heat-shimmer guitars of “Rain Dance”, evoking an unreleased Byrds or Buffalo Springfield backing track. Yes, it’s that good. “Sure Thing” is music to accompany an elevator ride you never want to end, but in a good way! The ornate “Garçon Manqué” is as beautiful as the instrumentals on Pet Sounds (think “Let’s Go Away For A While”) and the wistful “Turning In” starts like a stroll in the park before Maston introduces a scorched-Earth guitar solo that would startle if it wasn’t so pitch-perfect. “Chase Theme No. 2” is a briefer, more keening counterpart to what we hear on side A. The head-nod bass-drums-keys funk of “Hues” rounds out this staggeringly assured set; still opening each phrase with a plaintive strum, but using vibrato and heavy reverb to accent the electric organ melody. Sublime.
All these top drawer musical references might sound like just more of the usual release notes hyperbole, but there’s a reason that this still-young LP already changes hands for big money. It really is that good. Of course that first pressing didn’t hang around for long and Frank’s regularly been asked about a re-press pretty much ever since.
Re-issuing Tulips on Be With made sense to Frank “because the record would fit in so well with the catalogue”. Having already delved into the archives of KPM and Themes, and beginning to do the same with Coloursound and Selected Sounds, the collaboration “just makes sense and seems inevitable”. We agree.
Frank wasn’t sure a record of instrumentals with obscure soundtrack references would be an easy sell when it was originally released, and was surprised when Tulips turned out to be exactly what some people wanted to hear. We reckon its timeless beauty ensures that it’ll always have an audience.
The record was originally cut to be played at 45rpm, a technical quirk that grants the home listener the opportunity to go deeper, for longer. Played at 33rpm, the more languid unfurling of the tracks proves just as wonderful a trip. As a psilocybin-soaked case study from Aquarium Drunkard back in January of 2019 describes, some of the songs sound as if they were intended to be heard that way. The slower speed allowing the listener to step inside and perhaps even “crack the code” of the music’s meaning.
This Be With reissue has been mastered for vinyl by Simon Francis and has alternative burnt orange artwork from Maston himself. Hypnagogic it may be, but please don’t sleep.