By Ben Young
I’m relieved to find that Carlton Melton evidently has nothing to do with Carnegie Mellon. Which reminds me of a time I played in a drum circle after crashing a party in someone’s mountain cabin and got stuck there during an ice storm. It was an intense, inclusive experience, peculiar to a certain age or innocence. The caveman haze of my 20s? Sometimes I can only remember fragments in blurry dream moments, with occasional regret. Maybe I clashed with one of the others for playing too loud? Or got caught playing out of rhythm? Maybe it was my paranoid imagination… or a fabricated memory based on multiple, hallucinatory experiences.
At any rate, that doesn’t happen on this LP, and one might say too bad; it doesn’t offer a lot in terms of contrast or big surprises. To paraphrase Robert Plant in “Kasmir,” all the colours bleed to brown. And yet there is no scarcity of dynamics in the interplay of the three members of Carlton Melton: odd scales and sounds bubble to the surface, ever so intermittently, over repetitive chord changes – an uplifting major to major progression for the first track (“Nor’easter”) and mostly minor chords the rest of the way. The minimal arrangements offer a springboard for lots of effects, textures and washes in the tradition of Spaceman 3 or Earth.
Like most instrumental music, this is great if you need to write or work on something; it also makes for good headphones listening. In fact it reminds me of Euro drone electronica (Ultramilkmaids and Droneament) if filtered through an American post-jam basement band (important distinction from garage band. Something about being underground, with more insulation from neighbors, sets you freer, and indifference to the reaction of those around you becomes an instrument in itself. Suddenly, this lurches toward concept or even performance art.).
The name of the LP (Photos of Photos) and the cover are beautiful, lyrical counterpoints to the bordering on primordial essence of this heavy music. In spite of itself the thud thud drumming is endearing and at times maybe even danceable. If it went anywhere you may not want to go, but the subtlety in effect here – barely enough going on to matter – is something that just gets it over. It’s the trip, not the arrival, uh, man.
I believe it would sound better live, but it’s a good recording, and there is just enough action here in the periphery to dispel looming shadows of doubt and boredom in the foreground. Nonchalance masks a surgical attention to detail, so pass the anesthetic and bliss out to Carlton Melton.
Carlton Melton Photos of Photos is released by Agitated Records