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Carlton Melton
Country Ways Barnaby Smith , May 9th, 2011 12:58

Though without the international following of some of their more famed American psych counterparts, the relevance of Carlton Melton to that loose community of artists can be found by looking at the acknowledgments within the liner notes to Country Ways. Here, they give thanks to all of Wooden Shjips, White Hills, Earthless, Bardo Pond and Empty Shapes; that Carlton Melton count those esteemed groups among their friends makes them worthy of some attention, even if their new album sounds nothing much like any of them – their thick and impenetrable space rock soup makes Wooden Shjips sound like MGMT.

Carlton Melton, whose middle-aged members formed from the ashes of defunct garage-blues outfit Zen Guerrilla,released their previous LP Pass It On last year. That album contained a spellbinding and raucous version of Pink Floyd's 'When You're In', but - like their first album Live In Point Arena - it was a largely scratchy affair, which was both unfocused and the sound of a band in the throes of instrumental flailing about as they try to pin down a sound.

All three of these albums were recorded live in a massive geodesic dome in rural California, yet it is only on Country Ways that Carlton Melton have managed to home in on something truly excellent. Unlike their first two records, the mixing and production here is perfect. They have also achieved a restraint that was conspicuously lacking before, in the process establishing themselves as a unique new voice in psychedelic America.

The opening title track is a formidable thing and will take plenty of listens to appreciate and enjoy, but this is the ultimate Carlton Melton statement. Here, they are at their most unapologetically one-dimensional, with no riffs or even chord changes in sight, but just 20 minutes of blunt space rock drone. The track establishes guitarists Rich Millman and Andy Duvall as the key engineers of this ominously heavy sound, and indeed the interplay between them (one takes on layering duties, the other improvised noodling) is both tighter and more natural sounding than before.

It is tracks like this and 'Use Your Words' that might make Carlton Melton seem like a slower, dourer version of their heaviest influences, such as Hawkwind circa Space Ritual, but there is another side to them. Third track 'Harrington Fair' does persist with the hazy, distorted layering that all their compositions seem to start from, but is quickly transformed into something more arresting, and the best track on the record, by a meandering blues-based five-minute guitar solo that is a nigh-on perfect encapsulation of exactly the sort of thing Jerry Garcia was exploring on the Grateful Dead's Anthem Of The Sun, albeit with somewhat more colour and energy than the Carlton Melton way of doing things.

Country Ways only has four 'jams', but the album is padded out by three bonus tracks. 'The One That Got Away (Extended Version)' revisits a piece the band had previously released as a 7”, while 'March Of The Cicadas' features a riff suspiciously similar to 'When You're In'. That's fine though – as a seven-track release this is 74 minutes of glorious, multi-textured mud-rock, and is the finest thing Carlton Melton have yet put their name to.