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For this reviewer’s unpopular money, Pink Floyd only made two truly great; transcendental songs. But the fact remains that 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene' and 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' are two of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard. So it’s somewhat mystifying that so much of the rest of their catalogue does so very little for me by way of comparison.
Somehow I don’t think that Carlton Melton would share that opinion. Whilst their drawling psych shares little with the terrifyingly narcotic heart of darkness krautrock that the ‘Floyd mastered for 'Set the Controls…', it takes a hefty leaf out of the rest of Messrs Barrett, Waters, Wright, Mason and Gilmour’s early work. A bunch of gnarled (literally, they’re all over 40) former garage punkers turned psychedelic rockers from California, who record in a geodesic dome (a detail every review of their records seems so eager to thrust upon the reader like a slobbering labrador with a dead bird, including this one), theirs is a heady brew of wayward, Eugene-ian space rock that demonstrates a middle ground between the dawn throb of Tangerine Dream and something a bit more wayward.
Photos of Photos is a product of one of those dome-based recording sessions, guitars ebbing and flowing over a heady scent of theremin and percussion occasionally so delicate, low and sparse that you occasionally lose it altogether. It’s glacial, elegant and nods determinedly to the ‘forgotten futures’ explored so willing by Seventies music. This isn’t so much hypnagogia as unabashed idolatry of the retro-futuristic image of sleek rocketships gliding across the rings of Saturn and on to who knows where. It’s Space Rock, Jim, and exactly as we know it.
If the message that this a record that has to be absorbed through near total immersion hadn’t been entirely received upon glancing at the six track record's hour and ten runtime, featuring the titanic 22-minute-plus 'Adrift', then the music should speak, or at least hum, for itself. And boy, is it easy to find yourself Adrift in Carlton Melton’s swirling sounds. Photos of Photos exacts a gravitational pull on listening time to the extent that describing individual tracks almost feels worthless, and after multiple listens I’d still be hard pressed to tell anyone how any one of the song starts apart from the first one ('Nor’easter', with a lilting, swaying fade-in) or how any one song ends apart from the last one ('Smoke Drip' with the disappearing chimes of some long-forgotten starship console fading into the black). Yet there’s very little that ever sounds forced on this record, least of all longevity. Like Earth at their most majestic – and by the sounds somewhere in the middle of this record, they share a few effects pedals and amplifiers with Dylan Carlson – Carlton Melton progress remarkably naturally through their wandering odysseys, without recourse to tiresome guitar heroics or gormless stoned repetition.
The secret is perhaps the music’s tendency to creep from drone to muscularity with effortless ease. Like the longevity, it’s something that seeps out naturally, apparently erratic lonesome guitars colliding and pinballing off each other before coagulating into recognisable riffs as those afore-mentioned lost drums crash and thunder like they were there all along. Even those who might feel cheated by the band’s repetition of the same trick over and over couldn’t help to enjoy the thrill of realising that the hushed whisper has slowly, but also suddenly, become a frenetic hum.
What’s impressive is that even amongst a glut of Californian psychedelic acts thrown out in the big bang following Comets On Fire’s eardrum bursting ascension, Melton stand significantly apart. They might not have Earthless’ meteoric technicality, not the Shjips’ endless patience, nor even the fire of fellow spacerock devotees White Hills, but this record shows that they have the unerring ability to craft a record that sounds exactly like its influences but remains exciting and thrilling. It’s the only Pink Floyd record I ever wanted to hear from end to end.