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Carlton Melton
Mind Minerals Barnaby Smith , February 2nd, 2018 17:55

Magnificent monotony and unearthly clamour: NorCal psych-rockers boil it down and dense it up.

Since they emerged from the overpopulated coterie of Northern California psych-rock acts, Carlton Melton have been on a journey of simplification and distillation. It is an illuminating exercise to revisit their debut, 2009’s Pass It On, and note just how musical it is, how colourful, compared to this, their sixth album proper. Mind Minerals is a double album of magnificent monotony, defiantly uncompromising improvisation and breathtakingly dense instrumental noise.

You could argue that since Pass It On the three-piece have been on a mission to squash the space out of their vocal-less compositions. Some of that nascent album, such as the fabulous cover of Pink Floyd's 'When You're In', sounds positively baroque against the relentlessly heavy progress of Mind Minerals. Theirs has been a mission to essentialise their sound, to acutely home in on this particular strand of muddy yet dizzying astral psych that is free of melodic sweetness or any ornate production.

That said, the material on Mind Minerals can probably be split into two camps. On one hand, there are the propulsive, unchanging, rhythmic pieces that warrant ongoing comparison with similarly hirsute middle-aged adventurers in electric/electronic minimalism, and fellow San Franciscans, Wooden Shjips. 'Electrified Sky' is along these lines, as is the quaking, grinding, slow thud of particular highlight 'Sea Legs', eight minutes of dark, head-nodding noise adorned with Rich Millman's wailing improvised guitar lines.

On the other hand, Carlton Melton have here embraced semi-ambient soundscapes more than on previous albums. It is here more than anywhere else that we find them exploring the possibilities of reduction, drone and meditative tones – the influence of avant-garde composers such as La Monte Young and Angus MacLise should never be underestimated. On Mind Minerals, 'The Lighthouse' and 'Snow Moon' come pretty close to sound-bath territory, with their moody Eno-ish swathes of synthesizer and drawn-out (or drawled-out) cymbal washes. The similarly amelodic 'Climbing The Ladder' and 'Atmospheric River' further emphasise the band's smokier and woozier side, while the deeply affecting 'Way Back When' has shades of Amen Dunes, whose lo-fi, guitar-based noise experiments conjure an aesthetic of deepest night time that is highly comparable with this particular Carlton Melton mood.

One track on Mind Minerals actually doesn't fit neatly into these categories, and that is 'Basket Full Of Trumpets' which, much like 'Diamond In The Rough' from previous album Out To Sea, offers finely picked guitar noodling over an unchanging drum beat. It's a respite from the rest of the album's considerable intensity, yet even this is underpinned by a low and foreboding, albeit unobtrusive, bass drone.

Many reviews of Carlton Melton albums point out that they hardly offer anything new to the vast spectrum of psychedelic rock. And while that is generally true, Mind Minerals is at least the sound of a band arriving at and wholeheartedly expressing their core in the wake of a number of years working out exactly what that is. This is as good a pathway into the unearthly clamour of Carlton Melton as any.

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