Carlton Melton might sound like a fifty-something bloke with a Magnum P.I. moustache who’s attempting to sell you a dodgy used car, or Aldi’s version of a pork pie, but is in fact some Californian dudes playing spaced-out instrumental psychedelic noise-jams and then committing it to tape every few months. Their latest release, Always Even, comes hot on the heels of June’s Four Eyes EP, and is as pleasingly self-indulgent and tripped-out as you’d hope.
Always Even, as with anything Carlton Melton puts out, makes music’s current psychedelic scene – the likes of Temples and TOY – look almost as safely commercial as whatever’s in the Top 10 at the moment; the nearest recent release to it would be something like Hookworms’ heavily Spacemen 3 indebted debut record, Pearl Mystic. Carlton Melton do not do three minute verse-chorus-verse radio friendly unit shifters. The point of their records is not to embed a hook in your skull and leave it in there until the next big hook comes along looking for a spare chunk of cranium; it’s more of an immersive experience, a case of putting it on and letting it play out while you stare at the darkening sky out of a window, or take a long late-evening drive.
Opening track Slow Wake lives up to its name, the aural equivalent of gradually waking up as the light filters through your curtains: shimmering guitar notes ambling around and layering up over a lazy drone, accompanied by tinny, barely-there percussion that wavers in and out. Keeping On has a Madchester feel to it, only Madchester as listened to by someone tripped out of their mind at five in the morning after a warehouse rave – frantically circling synths and hysterical guitar squeals float on top of the kind of punchy drums and crunchy, drawn-out guitar chords favoured by The Stone Roses.
Spiderwebs takes us out of 1989 Manchester and back into Slow Wake’s woozy, meandering guitar notes; then it’s Sarsen, a hazy, heavy, nine-minute buzzsaw drone with a gentle Krautrock flavour to it that eventually builds to a screeching denouement. Ten-minute closing track The Splurge is an ominous, creaking, groaning supertanker of a song, chords clanking out like rusty chains, guitars wailing and droning all over everything.
In a world where two minute, IQ-obliterating EDM tracks are king, it increasingly seems that in a couple of decades the album as an art form will cease to exist except as an old-fashioned relic, replaced by a never ending queue of instant gratification singles, available for download only. “I remember when you could buy music in shops,” we will tell our disbelieving kids, misty-eyed. “There were special shops for music! The songs were on these shiny plastic things called CDs, and there were loads of different songs on each one. You’d have to wait a couple of years between each one coming out. It was dead exciting.”
Bands like Carlton Melton, if they still even exist in this depressing, literally monotone future, will be ignored, looked on as quaint and ridiculous, in the same way that bands who released stuff on vinyl were before the recent rehabilitation of the LP. People of the future will look back in amazement that anyone ever bothered recording or listening to something like Neu!’s Hallogallo, or the full 10-minute album version of The Stone Roses’ Fools Gold, let alone Carlton Melton’s structureless free jamming – it’ll be the instant vodka shot hit of a David Guetta track or nothing, no more slow-burning, slow-pint songs. We need to listen to these bands while we still can. Even if they do give you a headache.