Carlton Melton : Hidden Lights

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.

8.1 out of 10

 

Diamond In The Rough : A Conversation With Carlton Melton

Back when I was a little kid and I used to hear my brother talk about “Led Zeppelin” and “Def Leppard” and “Thin Lizzy”, I always thought those were names of people, not a band. They just seemed like actual human names to my 8-year old ears. I think that’s just the kind of stupid thing kids think. Well, me as a kid anyways. Me as an adult several years ago heard the name Carlton Melton and I regressed back to being that Midwestern tyke wearing Husky jeans and Batman t-shirts. I assumed that Carlton Melton was just one guy that played alt-country music somewhere in the Midwest -or maybe Idaho- and drove around the country in an old station wagon playing small bars and folk festivals.

Man, was I wrong.

Turns out Carlton Melton is a three-piece rock band from the wooded hills of Mendocino County in Northern California.  And when I say rock, I’m really undermining what it is these guys really do. It’s a mix of psychedelia, space, and a good helping of classic rock. Their superpowers lie in creating these massive musical spaces. A place where melody, atmosphere, and that great empty void where all those forgotten dreams and discarded thoughts end up. It’s a magical place where you can get lost and immerse yourself in some real ancient and mystical pixie dust. Drones and vibes from outer space are Carlton Melton’s playground, man.

Once I realized that Carlton Melton weren’t some alt-country troubadour traveling the highways and bi-ways of this great land with nothing more than an old Gibson Hummingbird and a professionally-tailored Nudie suit, I delved into their albums and was floored. Andy Duvall(drums, guitar), Rich Millman(synths, guitar), and Clint Golden(bass guitar, drums) don’t necessarily wear their influences on their sleeves, but you can definitely get hints of where their hearts lie in the musical world. Influences ranging from Hendrix(Millman), to Nick Drake(Duvall), to Spaceman 3(Golden), they cover a lot of ground. And their space for creation is just as unique as their sound. Up till their newest record, the band would come together in a geodesic dome, otherwise known as “the dome”, and would improvise sounds, jams, atmospheres into mind-expanding long form songs. The results were stunning. But for their latest LP, the excellent Out To Sea, they stepped inside a professional studio with their friend Phil Manley. The results are a more clear-eyed sound, but still just as mind-expanding.

The guys in Carlton Melton have a lot of dates and festivals on the calendar, but Rich Millman took some time to answer a few questions.

meltonJ. Hubner:  Let’s talk about the new album ‘Out To Sea’. Production-wise, it’s the cleanest and clearest album from Carlton Melton to date. Can you tell me a little bit about the making of this album? Did you want to do things differently this time around? 

Rich Millman: CM played some shows with Phil Manley’s Life Coach. Phil simply asked us if we would like to come by and check out his studio. We did and then booked a weekend in July 2014. We approached everything the same as any other time going up to Brian’s to record in the Dome. No rehearsals or demos. Everything was recorded as improvised during the session.

J. Hubner: The band has always recorded in your own space prior to ‘Out To Sea’.  What was it like recording in a different environment this time? Did you work with an outside producer as well? 

Rich Millman:  It was the first time for CM in a conventional studio. This enabled us to play through louder, bigger amps. In the Dome everything is recorded with room mics so you have to be careful about volume or you risk blowing out the recording. With Phil the guitar volumes were turned up like a live gig. Phil picked up all the nuances of our sound. It was recorded and mixed by Phil Manley. Produced by Phil and CM.

J. Hubner: The guitars are massive on this record. Were you guys going for more of a guitar-centric record this time around? While synths are still there they seem more subtle this time around. Was that something you guys had in mind going into this record?

Rich Millman:  I don’t think we were going for any certain direction or changes in sound. It just turned out that way during the mixing process. The synths are there on all or most of the recordings I think. We just didn’t hear a need to turn them up on any particular parts. Everything sort of settled into how it sounded live.

melton live rob gongoraJ. Hubner:  As always, Carlton Melton mixes the heavier aspects of psych and space rock with the more dreamy, atmospheric ones. You open the album with two huge songs, “Peaking Duck” and “Wheel and Deal”, which when it first starts out it reminds me a lot of Zeppelin’s “The Rover”(a very good thing), then fall into a very peaceful, transcendent “Diamond in the Rough”. Who or what influences the moods on this record? Is “out to sea” a theme that runs throughout?

Rich Millman: For me the mood is always feeling excited to have the opportunity to hang out and record with these guys ( and Phil Manley on this occasion  ). We never know how it is going to turn out or what will happen long term but I think we have been having a lot of fun over the years and it carries over onto tape.

J. Hubner: Is Carlton Melton a diamond in the rough?

Rich Millman: To some people maybe. Being part of it makes it hard for me to describe it in any way. That particular song definitely is because we did not remember recording it until Phil played it back to us. Andy came up with the title for that song.

J. Hubner: Gear-wise, what does the band like to use? Are there any essential guitar pedals that you can’t leave home without?

Rich Millman:  I always seem to have a digital-delay pedal and Rat distortion going.

J. Hubner: What shows does Carlton Melton have lined up? Will there be some smaller dates in the States?

Rich Millman: CM is playing an all day event Sept 13th in San Francisco put on by The San Francisco Great Society http://www.sfgreatsociety.org/ Tons of bands we have never seen or played with before so I’m excited about that. Then off to UK and Europe for 3 weeks.

J. Hubner: If you had to choose, top two favorite songs off of ‘Out To Sea’? And why those songs?

Rich Millman:  I like them all but if I had to pick two it would be ‘peaking duck’ and ‘it’s been summer all winter’.

J. Hubner: If someone was just coming to Carlton Melton for the first time, what album would you recommend to them as a good gateway record? 

Rich Millman:  ‘out to sea’ … That’s the gateway because there is more a coming!!!


 

You heard him. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of Out to Sea. I recommend listening to it on vinyl as it sounds absolutely stunning on vinyl, but get it in your ears anyway you can. If you’ll be in San Francisco on September 13 go check Carlton Melton out, courtesy of The San Francisco Great Society. All my UK and European friends, be on the look out for Carlton Melton. They’ll be blowing minds in your neck of the woods very soon.

 

Saturday Feelies

Not much to report.

Hot today.

Very hot, really.

Three and a half mile walk/jog, with some yard work and gardening thrown in for fun.

Having a Black and Blue by Dogfish Head Brewery this evening. A pint and a half of blackberry/blueberry Belgian-style ale. Tasty. And strong.

Kids back in school this week.

Lots of that transition stuff that bogs down the soul.

Things will improve. I just know it.

Time to get back to some music. Com Truise, No Joy, now some Carlton Melton.

All of you are much appreciated. My blogging friends and cohorts. My brethren.

Peace out.

 

 

Carlton Melton : Out To Sea

I’ve been living with the new Carlton Melton long player Out To Sea for a while now. Just letting things soak in a bit. Letting my brain float in that psychedelic brine, if you will. After careful listening -and enjoying a few beers along the way- I think it’s safe to say this is the band’s shining moment. Out To Sea takes all those hazy, grainy moments we’ve come to love about a Carlton Melton LP and puts them through a proper recording studio filter. The result is a clear-eyed vision of the CM philosophy: Let the music take you where it may. That slightly woozy, slightly druggy cloud that settled over past albums has lifted to show Carlton Melton in all their psych rock glory. Rich Millman, Andy Duvall, and Clint Golden come across as the true rock and roll warriors they are after burning touring rubber all over the world for the past 7 years. Out To Sea is a sprawling psych rock masterpiece.

 

First off, let me say that I love the geodesic dome recordings. Just because the band went to a proper studio(El Studio in San Francisco with Phil Manley, to be exact) doesn’t mean that everything that came before it is null and void. On the contrary, albums like Country Ways and Always Even are what turned me into a fan. The lo fi-esque qualities, the grainy haze, and Rich Millman’s gauzy synths kept me coming back. Out To Sea is almost like an experimental album for these Northern California psych wizards. Can a band that usually records with a hefty dose of analog hiss and muffled mystery pull off something more studio polished? The answer is a resounding hell yes.

“Peaking Duck” comes out of gates roaring. It’s like Led Zeppelin jamming with Klaus Schultze as massive drums and wavering synths collide with some good old crunchy wah wah guitar. There’s no mistaking it, Carlton Melton rocks. “Wheel and Deal” keeps that Zeppelin vibe going at first, with a riff pulled right out of the Physical Graffiti playbook. Pretty soon though the CM guys add their own take on the classic rock vibe and shoot this rocket ship directly into the heart of the sun. “Diamond in the Rough” is a beautiful seven minute daydream. Sunset light and mid-fall breezes come to mind while listening to this great mellow tune. It’s reminiscent of some of Yo La Tengo’s spacier moments on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. “Out To Sea” is a cacophony of feedback and dissonance. Tremolo’d guitars ring and pierce through the darkness with what sounds like something lighter and shinier in the distant background. “Similarities” opens lightly, with a cleanly delayed guitar line. The track builds into a walloping, upbeat rocker. A stoned ambivalence permeates this excellent tune. “It’s Been Summer All Winter” is sprawling and epic. It feels both grounded in terra firma and as light as thoughts in orbit. “The Barrier” is as heavy and doom-laden as something you’d hear Godspeed You! Black Emperor throw on the middle of Side A. Buzzing and tribal, it’s overwhelming in it’s wall of noise. “Perdiddle” lights things up a bit with it’s envelope filtered guitar riff and uptempo beat. “Realms” showcases Rich Millman’s keys a bit more than the rest of the record, which seems to be a good way to close this record out.

Out To Sea is a guitar album for sure. Even more so than past CM records. The synths take a spot in the background so Carlton Melton’s guitar prowess can be shown in the spotlight. This is not a complaint, folks. So many people complain that guitar just isn’t used like it used to be used on records. Well, Carlton Melton and Out To Sea are here to rectify that. Sprawling, dreamy, rocking, atmospheric; shove any adjective you want in there, they’ll all do just fine. Carlton Melton just gave us an epic, heady summer spinner.

8.8 out of 10

 

Melting Into The Universe : Rich Millman Talks Night Flights

Have you ever listened to music that just put you into another place? You could’ve had the worst day imaginable, but as soon as you drop the needle or hit “play” all of that washes away. It could be anything. Maybe for someone it’s Bob Dylan, or Neil Young. Maybe it’s the Replacements or George Harrison. For me, while all those artists are great and hold serious depth in the hearts and ears of a dedicated few million people around the world, there’s something about a good synthesizer album that always lulls me out of whatever existential funk I may be dealing with. Call it nostalgia or call it whatever you want. The dreamy, dystopian sounds of analog synthesizers have always given me great comfort. They allow me to focus on the task at hand; while in the same respect act as a sort of portal into some blank space where I don’t have to think about anything. Synth music is very meditative for me.

Of all the great synth albums I’ve discovered over the last couple of years, one of my favorites is the recently discovered(by way of my good friend Joe Storey over in Wales, England) Night Flights Vol. 1. The album is by, coincidentally enough, the band Night Flights. Night Flights is the synth-heavy side project of Carlton Melton band member Rich Millman. Carlton Melton are no strangers to long, expansive, psych-tinged jams, and Rich Millman colors those records with plenty of great synth layers. But with Night Flights, the synthesizer plays the biggest role. The songs he creates for this project are heavy on atmosphere and dreamy soundscapes. Millman gets a little help from Carlton Melton bandmate Andy Duvall on the excellently titled “Alpha Jerk”, but other than that it’s just Rich Millman getting lost in tones and spacey vibes.

I recently got a chance to talk with Rich about Night Flights and the music he created on Night Flights Vol. 1. 

J. Hubner: Hey Rich, it’s nice to meet you. So tell me about Night Flights. Is this a fairly new project or has it been floating around for awhile now?

Rich Millman: The track ‘Night Flights’ was recorded some time ago.. maybe 2008 or earlier. It was recorded onto a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder. It was initially 25 minutes long. An edited 5 minute version was added as a bonus track on Carlton Melton’s ‘Country Ways’ CD released by Agitated Records in 2010.

J. Hubner: So when did Night Flights come into play?

Rich Millman: Simon Keeler at Agitated asked if I had any other synth-based recordings for a possible full length LP down the road. I told him I could probably muster up a few more ideas, and by 2014 ‘Night Flights Vol. I’ came together.

J. Hubner: So who or what are your influences when you create music as Night Flights?

Rich Millman: It’s mostly just having the synth and the tape machines set up at home, plugged in, and finding time to record ideas. Just getting inspired to do it at any time, day or night, and then being able to go back over stuff at a later time.

J. Hubner: How do you come up with music for Night Flights? How do you start or conceive a track like “Night Flights” or “Origins”? In my mind I could see you starting with a patch of sound and just seeing where it takes you. I’m not sure if it’s that simple or not. 

Rich Millman: Yeah, it’s pretty simple. I found myself just recording a lot of stuff to tape and just going back and finding stuff that sounded cool; turning tapes over and playing backwards, then recording over that, slowing stuff down or speeding tracks up with tape speeds and pitch
controls and recording over that in actual time..simple really. Fun stuff. I feel like the more that it does not sound like an actual synth or guitar or drum the better.

J. Hubner: What sort of equipment do you use? Is it mostly analog? What’s your recording set up like?

Rich Millman: I just have an Alesis Micron Synth. I record to old Tascam 4-track cassette recorders. I have a huge box of type II hi bias tape…they don’t manufacture it anymore so when it runs out I’ll have to search for more online somewhere. Sometimes I’ll run the synth and both tape machines at the same time. Always trying to experiment. It’s a very lo-fi set up.

J. Hubner: The sound to Night Flights Vol. 1 is very vast and expansive. Is there any sort of concept to the record? A narrative of sorts? 

Rich Millman: No, no concepts. The title ‘Night Flights’ I just used because it reminded me of being a teenager and watching the TV show ‘Night Flights’ that would televise on weekends growing up.  First time I ever saw Devo was on that show and they freaked me out.

J. Hubner: While four of the six tracks on the album are all about atmosphere, there’s two that have a bit of a groove to them. “Alpha Jerk” and “Corpse Strut” have a bit of a dark groove with electronic beats. Is there a story behind them? They’re great song titles, by the way.

Rich Millman: Well , ‘Alpha Jerk’ is in the Jimi Hendrix movie. It’s the one where his friends, the twin brothers, are interviewed and explain what they think was going on in Jimi’s mind when he died.

J. Hubner: Oh, I see.

Rich Millman: You have to see it to get it. Andy Duvall, who also plays in Carlton Melton , plays some guitar on the track. Andy and I first met and bonded over a love for the music of Jimi Hendrix some 25 years ago… so there is a little insight into using the ‘alpha jerk’ title. ‘Corpse Strut’ just instantly sounded fitting for that track. That was the working title and it stuck.

J. Hubner: How do you discern between a Carlton Melton track and a Night Flights track?

Rich Millman: Mostly all the recordings to tape are ideas for when I jam with Carlton Melton. I’ll always try to play weird tape stuff to spark ideas or to get an odd riff going with the band. But I’ll also have plenty of stuff left over or laying around that may work on a Night Flights record, or maybe for a future jam in Carlton Melton. I feel like the more ideas on tape laying around the better.

J. Hubner: Do you take the Night Flights music on the road?

Rich Millman: Can’t really see playing this stuff live right now. There is a lot of tape manipulation going on..some stuff I just captured it one time only I think.

J. Hubner: Can you tell me about the album artwork? It’s a great album cover. Who did it for you?

Rich Millman: I send the music to my friend Kaveh Soofi. He lives outside Chicago. He likes to listen to this kind of music at home and layer art ideas in a similar way that the music is layered.

J. Hubner: Have you worked with Kaveh before?

Rich Millman: Kaveh has done quite a few LP covers for Carlton Melton. Kaveh is a great all around guy who is generous with his time and talents to help out with the art. Very fortunate to have him on-board as he can create a great visual to look at while listening to the record.

J. Hubner: Will there be a Night Flights Vol. 2 at some point? 

Rich Millman: I’d like to think so. Hopefully within the next three years possibly.

J. Hubner:  I’ve pretty much been obsessing over synth music as of late. I picked up Rudiger Lorenz’ ‘Invisible Voices’, Z ‘Visions of Dune’, as well as Sinoia Caves’ ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ soundtrack over the summer and they’ve all been heavily played and loved by me. Now with Night Flights that love of synth soundscapes has come back all over again. What do you think the appeal is with synth music? For you personally what drew you to synth music?

Rich Millman: Thanks for the listening suggestions. Something that caught my ear recently was some of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. Not sure what drew me to synth music. I remember seeing the John Carpenter movies when they first came out;  Assault On Precinct 13 and Halloween. I was young and the movies and music hit me as hard as any Heavy Metal or Rock music I was listening to at that time.

J. Hubner: So what was the reason you first bought a synth? 

Rich Millman: I originally bought the synth to play simple chords or undertones while I could play my guitar over it. To stay in practice and stuff. This was when I was not playing in a band and before Carlton Melton started playing. The synth turned out to be so much fun it inspired me and some friends to get together and record some music with the synth and amps, loud guitars and drums, and which eventually became a band with Carlton Melton. I would recommend a synth to anyone playing guitar or other solo instruments..an endless array of sounds.

J. Hubner: You seem pretty well versed on the synthesizer. 

Rich Millman: I still consider myself a hack with the synth. With Carlton Melton we have been lucky enough to play with a lot of great bands with extraordinary synth and keyboard players. Glitter Wizard , Wooden Shjips , Moon Duo , White Manna, The Cosmic Dead, Tar Halos, Mugstar, and Mind Mountain to name just a few.

 

Night Flights’ Night Flights Vol. 1 is out now on Agitated Records. Keep up with Rich Millman and Carlton Melton at http://www.carltonmeltonmusic.com/. You can also keep up with everything Night Flights at http://nightflightsvolumei.blogspot.com/?m=1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Flights : Night Flights Vol.1

I was minding my business(as usual) a couple of weeks ago when I get an email from acrossNight-Flights-Night-Flights the pond. The pond being the Atlantic Ocean, in case you were confused. So this email was from a trusted confidant and fellow music-obsessive. We’ll call him Mr. 1537. He proceeds to tell me about a record he picked up during his lunch hour at Probe Records located in Liverpool. The band is called Night Flights and the album is titled Night Flights Vol.1. He said it had a spaceship on the cover and it was yellow translucent vinyl. These were the only qualifications needed for him to slap down his hard earned monies. Well, those and the fact that Night Flights is a couple guys from the band Carlton Melton and it was mastered by Monster Magnet’s John McBain.

But the spaceship is what really did it.

Mr. 1537 knew my penchant for purchasing spaced-out, synth-driven instrumental records, and according to the sticker on the vinyl Night Flights was “Acidic Ambient Spacegaze”. How the hell could I not go for this? I immediately got a hold of my vinyl guy and he immediately had a copy waiting for me within a day or two. Upon arriving home with said “spacegaze” record I threw it on the turntable and proceeded to have my psyche melted. Night Flights Vol.1 is the stuff fever dreams and psychedelic space explorations are made of.

Night Flights is in fact Rich Millman of the band Carlton Melton. I have to be honest prior to listening to this album I thought Carlton Melton was just a guy(much like I thought Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin were guys when I was a wee lad.) Come to find out Carlton Melton is a psych free rock jam band from Northern California. Rich Millman plays guitar and synths in the band. Apparently he has a deep appreciation for the analog flavors vintage synths offer as he gets deep and heavy on Night Flights Vol.1. He gets some help from Melton bandmate Andy Duvall on the track “Alpha Jerk” with some extra guitar, but other than that it’s just Millman getting lost in space, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Opening track “Night Flights” almost comes across as the score for the birth of the universe. It swells and flows like lava seeping from a planet’s core. It sounds like swaths of light breaking through darkened clouds. Don’t let all the new age-y talk scare you. If you’ve ever gotten lost in a Tangerine Dream or Brian Eno record then grab your beanbag and sit right down in front of the speakers. Welcome home. “Origins” is darker, with feeling of some lost, early 70s science fiction movie you come across on late night TV. Grainy shots of a sunrise in the desert, superimposed over a spoken prologue explaining that the earth was ravaged by nuclear war and now there are only mutated murderers and marauders, along with the innocent they chase left on the planet. There’s a lo fi hum to this track that gives the music more weight. More depth. It ages the sound coming from the speakers. “Alpha Jerk” is different in that there’s a electronic rhythm that pushes the song along, giving it this synthetic pulse. Square waves never sounded so menacing. It’s the sound of deep space menace. “Lure” is relatively short, but what seems to be signals arriving to our ears from somewhere far in the solar system from years past. Desolation and isolation from within a dead space station. Or maybe it’s just some cool, ambient synth stuff. Either way, it moves me man. “Corpse Strut” is just killer. Some more vintage electronic beats make their presence know here. And that synth. It sounds like classic John Carpenter. Menacing and growling, you get the vibe of ‘Assault On Precinct 13’. The synth is also reminiscent of “Sunday Afternoon In The Park”, the pretty stellar instrumental off of the only Van Halen album you need to own, Fair Warning. We can argue semantics another time, right now you need to put this song in your ears and leave it there to fester a bit.

I often ask myself what is it about this vintage synth music that gets to me. I think a lot of it is nostalgia. It takes me back to being a kid and watching late night horror and sci fi movies. Those were good memories and those years informed my tastes when I got older. But the other, and most important reason is that this music takes you out of your current headspace and puts you somewhere else. No words to lead you, the music just lets you float off somewhere else. It leads the way to, maybe not enlightenment, but to a temporary lull in the everyday slag. You can’t ask for more than that.

Rich Millman has made a synth classic with Night Flights Vol.1. It’s ambient, atmospheric, expansive, and at times even ominous. If you put on some headphones and maybe have a beer or two it could even be transcendent. If you let it.

9.2 out of 10

Many thanks to Mr. 1537 for turning me on to this great record.