Carlton Melton - Photos of Photos [Agitated Records - 2012]
Carlton Melton is a psychedelic quartet from Mendocino County, essentially the marijuana center of Northern California. Their music is recorded live and improvised inside the restored geodesic dome home of one of its members. It should be no surprise then that Photos of Photos, the group’s third album, primarily comprises long, shapeless, textured guitar pieces with the goal of filling space that likely takes on another life when stoned out of your fucking mind.
The music ebbs and flows in traditional psych waves, with melody lines weaving in and out of cyclical phrases and hints of groove. But what cuts the album most apart from its contemporaries—other than its no-studio, no-songs approach to recording—is that Carlton Melton is less concerned with heavy noise and more interested in warm blankets of instrumentation that border on ambience. The 12-minute “Nor’easter,” for example, stays calm and consistent; intended as a slow ride, its rolling rhythm and languid guitar soloing stay within certain set boundaries that are determined from the get-go. “Photos of Photos” is even more ethereal, adding a backdrop of synth washes that give the track a new age/Vangelis feel while still retaining the band’s ethos of raw sound and low production value.
Carlton Melton knows to mix it up from track to track just enough to give each piece a distinguishing feature. The gentle intricacies in the playing on “Wingspan” lend the track an indie/post-rock feel, concluding with the welcome undercurrent of a string loop. Less successful is “Space Treader”: although a layer of “classic” guitar melodies and riffing helps pick up the album’s momentum, the odd and surprising synth solo feels too distinctly retro-referential to properly fall into place.
Even with these slight divergences, music that is all about containment regularly inflates but never quite progresses. The CD/digital bonus tracks that round out Photos of Photos are the exceptions to this. “Adrift” is a drone opus that becomes a snarling, smoky ode to noise, but its unwieldy duration grows stagnant and weighty without an extra toke to help achieve lift-off. Reprised from an earlier 12” and featuring Wellwater Conspiracy’s John McBain, the closing “Smoke Drip” also offers a thick and heavy psych mix, but it percolates with spacy tension and energy that is absolutely missing from the rest of the album.Richard T Williams