Whenever you drop the needle on a Carlton Melton album you can almost always expect to be taken on a journey. Their albums are these sonic doorways into alternate realities that are sometimes serene and sometimes gritty. The musical world of Carlton Melton is an often gauzy trip into hazy synths, swaths of guitar, and when the mood is more raucous drums kick and punch through the speakers. Andy Duvall, Rich Millman, and Clint Golden take their sound universes very seriously.
The first Carlton Melton album I ever bought was Always Even. After hearing the psychedelic vibes of “Keeping On” I was in. That song just got to me for some reason. 2015s Out To Sea saw them expanding the sonics into more hi fidelity stakes, but the dreamy and psychedelic vibes remained.
Their newest release is the EP Hidden Lights. It’s a 3-song exploratory surgery on the psyche. It’s expansive, thought-provoking, and deceptively deep.
Don’t let the three song length fool you. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 10 song album released this year that contains nearly the same amount of galactic heft that this does. Album opener “Rememory” feels transcendent. It opens with Millman’s heavy synths floating along like an early morning mist over a still lake. It’s somewhat reflective of Rich Millman’s solo work in his side project Night Flights. Soon enough though Duvall and Golden come in to give the track some rock heft with drums and guitar. It’s a beautifully trippy 17 minutes.
“The Warbler” keeps the atmospheric vibes going. It feels like a series of soundscapes coming together, like a patchwork of drones. It’s a track that’s very easy to get lost in. Headphones aren’t a requirement, but you’ll find the experience that much more enjoyable. The track does seem to “warble” a bit, like an old cassette tape you find in the bottom of a box. It still plays, but the tape has warped a bit and the effect is one of a buoy at sea bobbing up and down with the waves.
Hidden Lights sees Carlton Melton in reflective mode. Guitars aren’t being used to knock us around with chugging riffs as much as they are being used to build hazy walls of sustained notes and Eno-like drones. While these guys can jam with the best of ’em, they have a real talent for dreamy, hallucinogenic soundscapes.
Last song “Hidden Lights” opens with gnarly guitar feedback along with tribal drum beats. They slowly build momentum over 9 minutes of that aforementioned jamming. Carlton Melton ends this EP on a much louder note than what they started out with. They’ve decided to close this one out howling at the moon, as opposed to chanting in the clouds.
The beauty of a Carlton Melton record is that you never what sort of trip you’ll be taking. It could be a gnarly jam in the middle of the woods, or it could be this spatial walk thru the milky way. Sometimes it could be both in the same song. Hidden Lights is a minor trip into vibing with the universe, which for my money is a trip well worth taking.