Northern California psychedelic sorcerers Carlton Melton are brain surfers, mind trippers, … “psychlists,” if you prefer. The band will take your head for a ride, occasionally rushing at superluminal speeds through a wormhole or gliding softly on a gentle breeze in a leafy glade. Sometimes your brain needs to rage, and sometimes it needs to repose.
For a decade and a half, the band has yo-yo’ed, almost schizophrenically, between these two modes: walloping space jams with furious guitar solos in one hemisphere of the brain and ethereal, feather-light splashdowns in the other. Not to mention a track here and there that builds from the latter into the former.
But with two new releases in 2023, the band has evolved. Whether psych rock or ambient trance, their sound remains driving, organic, and flowing. With the addition of Anthony Taibi (White Manna, DDT), however, the group’s metal freak-outs are Hawkwindier and their droning kraut trances are Spacemen 3-er. In January, the quartet released the playfully spacey Resemble Ensemble, recorded in Taibi’s home studio 3D Light. Now sees the band Turn To Earth, a work with scents of Autumn, a season of death and transition. The cover art evokes a vine-covered, electric crucifix. The sound is, well, earthy but also gritty and striving towards change. The album was recorded in Fall 2022 and now harvested in Fall 2023.
Phil Becker (Terry Gross, Pins Of Light) contributed drums and percussion to a few tracks on Turn To Earth, recording the album at El Studio in San Francisco. With Becker at the helm, the synths have become more prominent (“Cosmicity,” “Roboflow,” “Migration”) and the tone heavier on the doom (“Cloudstorming,” “Unlock The Land,” title track): several moments could even serve as background music for epic dark fantasy films like Conan the Barbarian, Fire and Ice, or Heavy Metal.
As exquisite as Turn To Earth is, Melton are best appreciated as a live act: their recordings as well as their gigs are largely improvised – not so much composed as birthed. And yet their most recent tour ended abruptly and perilously. The group had to cancel its final three shows once members were admitted to Arnhem hospital in the Netherlands. Five years later, reinforcements have strengthened the band and restocked its arsenal of great tracks.
After the rockus interruptus of that 2018 tour and the tantric tease of the intervening Covid lockdown, Melton have some unfinished business. An October 2023 tour is poised to set the freshly minted quartet back onto the stages of Europe and within the cerebral folds of its fans.
Turn To Earth, sure … but keep your head in outer space.