by Eric Bensel
Amorphous and drifting and aggressive and dissonant, Carlton Melton has plenty to recommend its music. Over the past decade, the Bay Area combo – Andy Duvall (drums/guitar), Clint Golden (bass), Rich Millman (guitars/synth), and occasional collaborators – has issued a catalog of work that is as enigmatic as the mysteries of human consciousness. At first a loose psych-jam experiment, the band has evolved into something not just measured and exciting but actually transcendent.
The 2015 double LP Out To Sea represented a major step forward for the band – in terms of the album’s production values, its sweeping vision, and the group’s performance. The latest album, 2018’s Mind Minerals (profiled in McG’s Backroom episode 333), continues in the same vein but is more consistently excellent than its predecessor. Each tune feels as if it were placed carefully and strategically on a chessboard, inching ever closer to checkmate.
On previous tours, the band’s set would build to a boiling point. A few ethereal tunes would coalesce into more structured compositions then explode in an orgy of arena rock. Illustrated graphically, the gig would be an upward curve increasing exponentially. Tonight, in Paris’ “laboratory of improvised, experimental, noisy music” Les Instants Chavirés, the band’s performance is more of a surf, with exhilarating thrill rides gliding down into soft landings.
The trippy tunes (an airy “Atmospheric River,” a wistful “Simulacra,” a rustic “Smoke Drip”) act as palate cleansers to prepare for the upcoming swig of the hard stuff (the grinding “Electrified Sky,” the towering “Psychoticedelicosis,” the caustic “Untimely”). The show oscillates like a sine wave, rising and falling as the swelling of the sea.
On the new LP, the edgy “Eternal Returns” closes with a soft bass and drum outro accented by light wisps of guitar feedback. In tonight’s performance, however, Millman replaces the feedback with melodies that float as if buoyed by a gentle updraft. Meanwhile, the album’s chill surf of “Basket Full of Trumpets” gushes with a benevolent energy on stage, its positive vibes heightened with an added buzz. Such is the unexpected charm of Carlton Melton’s gigs — the tracks that scrape and grind on vinyl unveil a delicate sensibility live, while the more sedate and avant-garde tunes come alive with a color and a force only hinted on record.
At the end of the show, while the group rages through a cover of Pink Floyd’s “When You’re In,” Millman steps down from the stage and places his guitar over the shoulders of a girl of about 8 years. Her father, beaming, yelps to her some encouragement. She neither strums the instrument nor removes her headphones. She seems neither stressed nor excited nor uncomfortable.
Several minutes of white noise later, Millman retrieves his guitar and the band finishes the song with a powerful thud. The girl, still largely immobile, smiles at having just served as the eye of the storm.
All around her was one amazing goddamn cyclone.