Carlton Melton “Always Even” (Northern California, 2014)
“When I was growing up I was lucky enough to have bedroom curtains decorated with stars, planets and other astronomical prettiness. It gave me a glimpse into the galaxy that I was otherwise denied by light pollution, not owning a telescope, and being too lazy to do a paper-round in order to buy myself a telescope. Now that I am a (barely functional, almost wholly inadequate) adult male, our sensible bedroom is furnished with a large, plain, pitch-black blind which can be raised and lowered by a dangling parallel drawstring like an agonisingly slow guillotine. During my frequent bouts of anxiety-induced insomnia, that blind just loves to stare down at me doing its finest impression of a giant blank gravestone or an intimidating portal to black-hole oblivion or the ultimate sodding Rothko.
While our current blind is the perfect suffocating accompaniment to the latest Haxan Cloak record, Carlton Melton sure have me pining for that old cosmic fabric. The band claim to be an instrumental three-piece who record in a geodesic dome in Northern California but I’m more inclined to believe that their dome sits on the dusty surface of Mars from where they beam their music to Earth with a massive purple laser.
If I have any criticism for Always Even, it is that is too short. There is a lot to be said for the art of knowing when and how to draw an indulgent jam to its conclusion before it outstays its welcome. Certain bands, however, I could listen to jam and jam and jam until the alien-abducted cows come home. Bardo Pond are one such band, as are Endless Boogie and Oneida, and so too are Carlton Melton. They have such a natural, telepathic, seemingly effortless mastery of improvisational rock wizardry that once they’ve lifted you up in their sparkly hands you feel you could float in that blissful state of suspended animation forever.
Digital innovation means that apart from respecting tradition there is nothing to stop musicians breaking free from old, established two-sides-of-vinyl/compact-disc-max-running-time format restrictions and album structures, as I think Paul Morley noted on the BBC’s Review Show while wearing a polo neck and frowning wisely. Alongside transcendental electronica, it’s Carlton Melton and their ilk who’ll benefit most from the steamrollering of the 80-minute fence. Imagine the possibilities. Imagine if Bardo Pond’s ‘Narmada’ didn’t fade out after twenty brief minutes but kept euphorically chugging away for days on end.
Instead, Carlton Melton have now lunged in the opposite direction. At only five tracks (just two exceeding the nine-minute mark) and with a total running time of thirty-eight minutes, Always Even is a little skimpy compared to last year’s epic Photos Of Photos. Like White Hills’ Frying On This Rock, it has the taste of an intermediary sorbet dished up between two more substantial courses.
Even so, it is a far more delectable palate-cleanser than most groups could serve from their audio freezer. Drumless opener ‘Slow Wakes’ eases us in with its mellow Funkadelic noodling and serene synthesiser drones. This makes way for ‘Keeping On’. The guitars here are far crunchier, the synths engaged in jittering oscillated Moog-ery. They’re backed (just as Wooden Shjips always are) by a practical, no-nonsense drumbeat. The track also includes some pleasingly sharp shards of feedback and, towards the end, a lead guitar part which flies backwards past satellites wearing an unhinged jetpack. Re-banishing the percussion, ‘Spiderwebs’ consists of a gentle, primitive refrain plucked over abstract washes of astral splodge.
The two best and (not coincidentally) longest tracks take up side two. First is ‘Sarsen’, a warmly fuzzed motorik space-Kraut groove decorated with android birdsong, blasts of gonzoid soloing, and a hip false ending; a kosmische stroll that Circle, Hawkwind, Faust or Gnod would all be equally proud of. ‘The Splurge’ is, well, splurgier. It’s a looser, more clankingly industrial, chaotically lumbering affair, like Glenn Branca, dressed as the Tin Man, toppling up one of Esher’s staircases.
So, I could say that Carlton Melton are among the finest purveyors of out-there psych-rock currently spellbinding audiences into deep, trippy hypnosis. I could say that, notwithstanding its relative brevity, Always Even is further proof of their remarkable heady abilities.
Or I could just say this: Always Even will make a grown man type the words ‘space curtains’ into the eBay search box.” – The Quietus
1. Slow Wake
2. Keeping On
5. The Splurge