Checking back on the website here it seems that I have never reviewed a Carlton Melton album before. I find this amazing considering the collection of their records sitting on my shelves, records that get pulled out regularly. How I missed doing ‘Out To Sea’ I don’t know, although it did make the end of year ‘Essential’ list in 2015… and that is because it was, for me, a career high for the band, their fifth full-length release I think. They are the only band I’ve ever gone to bed and got up again for, at the Liverpool Psych Fest a couple of years ago when they played in the middle of the night (not very rock and roll I know, but worth it to witness a blinding performance).
So while there have been a couple of good ‘EP’ releases in the meantime this is the first ‘real’ LP by the band in three years, and oh boy was it worth the wait. Like ‘Out To Sea’ it is a double album, which is something I tend to approach cautiously when doing a review. This is because I have to consider such a lot of music at once, and in a short enough time to catch the release date… it means that you really have to get into it quite quickly. However, when you do it is an absolute joy… and this album is just that.
Given I’ve not reviewed Carlton Melton before, and there’s a lot here to talk about, I’m not going to put this in the context of their previous music; rather look at it on its own terms and see how we go from there. For me whether it’s better, worse, same or different than its predecessors is moot. It’s a terrific release that deserves to be heard… end of!
OK before you wonder if I’m ever going to get to the point, here goes…. The opening track ‘Untimely’, although coming in at less than two minutes, really shakes you out of whatever state you’re in with its all-guitar repeato attack that softens you up for the blues grooves of ‘Electrified Sky’. The hard-edged guitar on this cuts through you like a knife, while the drums pound out a really clear rhythm. The thing that strikes me first is how clear and well recorded this seems to be… gradually the track goes off into all sorts of sub-plots with space rock synths and guitar operating under that rock solid groove that doesn’t let up for a moment. Ten minutes into the 76 of the set and you already know that you’re in for a treat.
After that powerhouse of an opening, things settle down somewhat for ‘The Lighthouse’. This is a much more atmospheric track that, perhaps through the suggestion of the title, has a certain understated power to it. There is the suggestion of an underlying force here as the ambient drone is coupled with something less passive that means you find yourself zoning out to the music while all the time imagining what lies beneath. After that cool, if slightly disturbing, interlude Carlton Melton are back on it with the heavy psych of ‘Eternal Returns’. Rich Millman’s guitar of this is just brilliant, he really takes it out there and you feel that music gene inside you wanting to pull itself out of its socket and just run wild.. really absorbing and not just a little bit exciting… and then at the end there’s a twist into something slightly more esoteric which marks them out for me. Many bands would have rocked to the end with a big flourish… this is more interesting.
After that ‘Snow Moon’ sees a return to the drones of ‘The Lighthouse’, but as a much longer track weighing in at just over ten minutes. This gives you time to really stretch out and let go. One of the things that I look for in a double album is variety, and Carlton Melton have certainly met that expectation, thus far interspersing more upbeat rock tracks with chilled out minimalist numbers that engender a multitude of emotions as you listen to them. As such this is not an album to drag you further into introspection if you’re feeling that way, nor does it take you overly out there… it’s like it maintains a balance of musical uppers and downers.
This pattern changes with ‘Basket Full Of Trumpets’ which is something of a middle way between the two. The heavy and ambient elements are combined and mollified into a lovely mid-pace track that feels comforting because of the beautiful melodies that weave their way through the music. This is a track to really kick back and relax to, and just take it all in.
I guess we’re well into the second disc now, I only have a digital version at the moment, and this deep into the record I’m still thoroughly engrossed and intrigued by what comes next. ‘Sea Legs’ feels different again with its improv’ed jazz/ kraut feel. There’s a moment about three minutes in when you think the track might just lose it’s direction when the guitar kicks in and the whole thing just takes off. Listening to this I found myself being initially bewildered by the layers of sound here, and it takes a couple of runs through to really start separating them out… but once you do you get that moment of clarity and it all clicks… and who doesn’t like that moment? Yet another angle to this set which is getting easier to write about by the minute… especially as ‘Sea Legs’, well, finds its feet and just blasts you off into the depths of the unknown… just brilliant.
Then just when you thought you could get more into this record ‘Way Back When’ adds to the cumulative effect, another aspect I look for in a double album, building on what has gone before this time with a space/ kraut feel that could hardly be more laid back if it tried. This hazy atmosphere is continued with ‘Climbing The Ladder’ with its background drone and unassuming bass line acting as a foundation for short guitar flourishes which give the track an angular feel that becomes more soporific the more you listen to it as you become immersed in the pulses of music.
Coming in at over thirteen minutes, ‘Atmospheric River’ is the longest track on the album and one that you’re going to want to just let yourself go in. Once again there’s a spacey ambience to this track that pretty much forces you to stop what you’re doing and retreat into the inner recesses of your mind. Sit back and drift off onto whatever zone the music takes you… I’m writing this on a bright sunny morning and I can feel myself going, I can only imagine what it’ll be like listening to the warmth of the vinyl version of an evening… absolute bliss I’d imagine.
With that in mind it’s somewhat wrenching to be hit by the opening bars of ‘Psychoticedelicosis’ as the hard edged guitar of the opening track ‘Untimely’ returns. Actually after what I’ve heard in between I’m surprised that I remember that… but anyway this track lifts you out of your chilled out inner spacecraft and brings you back into the land of the consciousness. There’s elements of stoner and space rock here, all nicely brought together in Carlton Melton’s own inimitably tight way as you find yourself opening out into the riffs as they power you up again. A great flourishing finish to a great set of music.
‘Mind Materials’ has pretty much all I want from a double album. There’s a certain progression, although this is no concept album, and there is the sort of variety that will take you through different moods and different states of mind. It’s an album that announces itself with a bang, and leaves with a flourish; yet in between there’s plenty there to sit and just be… to zone out and refuel. It is very much an album that has to be played in full to be properly appreciated, and for me that’s very welcome in a culture that wants its gratifications far too quickly. Here Carlton Melton release the musical pheromones slowly and allow you time to react accordingly. In fact I hadn’t really though about the title of the album until I just wrote it, this album really does live up to its name providing materials for the mind… marvellous!
‘Mind Materials’ is released by Agitated Records on 2nd February 2018.
I’ve also found my Carlton Melton photos from the Liverpool PsychFest in 2015 and have put them up here.
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