The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Carlton Melton
Photos Of Photos Stevie Chick , November 19th, 2012 04:49

Indulgence is an oft and unfairly maligned tendency in rock. Should a song dare to break the four minute barrier, or contain too many notes (or not enough), or in any way break from the blueprint, you’ll hear those mardy, unimaginative voices rise in disgust, their dull knives cutting always in the same direction. “Self-indulgent!” they cry, like they cried when 'Sister Ray' chugged so long the engineer quit the studio before anyone got to suck on any ding-dongs, like they cried when Rhys Chatham got those two gongs a-ringing like they’d never stop, like they cried when Sonic Youth’s 'The Diamond Sea' morphed with leisurely grace from Neil Young vamp into super-cosmische space-rock epic.

You, however, are a Quietus reader. You understand that if rock is an exercise in panning for nirvana - trying out countless riffs, licks, vibes, grooves, screes and cries in search of the ones that possess the magic to set souls on fire - milking something that works for as much sacred ooze as you can squeeze out of it can only be good. You’ve an open-mind, and you like for it to be fucked-with, at length and with languid precision, if the material demands it.

So enter Carlton Melton, five northern Californian drudes who, together, cook up a well-aged, amp-steeped din that recalls Julian Cope’s memorable praise for the music of kindred spirits Comets On Fire: “Excellent brutalising for the inner Kinky.” Epic drones are the order of this heavy-lidded day, and as befits such expanded concentration spans, those drones run long. Their latest sacrament, Photos Of Photos, numbers six tracks over 70 minutes. The shortest (the title track) chases dank synth reveries and mist-dense walls of sound over the sonic tundra for a relatively-brief seven minutes. The longest, 'Adrift', runs its ambience across 23 minutes of sloth-crawl build, guitars sending hypersonic signals into the ether, tolling cro-magnon stomps, conjuring medievalist metal flourishes and embarking upon discursive wanders of eloquent top-string wail; you’ll want the full version only found on the CD release, as its full sprawl can’t be encompassed by a side of vinyl.

These marvellous tracks aren’t marked by much in the way of bustle - not much necessarily changes over their elegant stretches. But that isn’t to say that not much happens. Opener 'Nor’easter' breaks like a slo-mo hurricane, noodling with lysergic focus over the opening two chords of 'War Pigs', revelling in low-watt strobes of echo, torn tendrils of Eddie Hazel-esque eloquence, and a heavy fog of crackling drone. Think Bardo Pond and the legendary jams they’d hold in a sealed garage with a block of hash cooking on the hibachi, think Funkadelic at their haziest and laziest - a steam bath of noise begging for your immersion. 'Space Treader' makes like some sacred electric ceremony, stentorian strums of guitar building upon each other as liquid lead lines layer over each other, like neon veins glowing beneath the skin of some great behemoth. 'Wingspan', meanwhile, evokes ambient Eno, its porcelain washes of synth and amp reverb stretching the canvas, as super liminal melodies plucked from the Hendrixian aether conjure images of the cosmos purloined from the covers of pulpy 50s sci-fi.   Four minutes in to 'Adrift', as twisted guitars and effervescent synths fashion a stairway to the heavens, etching ornate decorations into the balustrade with Neil Young-at-his-‘out’est squall, you have to admit that there is a far amount of indulgence going on here. But it’s the listener who’s being indulged, not the musician - these extended explorations exist not to swell the ego of the artist, but to soothe, stoke and profoundly stone those willing to lose themselves within the swirl. Where Carlton Melton are going, they couldn’t get there any sooner than they do. And a trip like this is all about the journey.