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The last time we checked in on instrumental Northern Californian psychonauts Carlton Melton, their evolution from crushing riff-lords to increasingly droning drifters had stalled. Physical form had largely been abandoned on 2018’s Mind Minerals in favour of half-forgotten dreams of the fledgling cosmos, mind-massaging experimentation needing a stronger anchor than that LP’s righteous repeats and static storms provided. The band’s 7th full-length, Where This Leads is happily better balanced – more interesting too – and its generous run-time is used to explore both cinematic improv as well as planet-dwarfing heaviness.
Where This Leads is a patient listen all the same, starting life with the forlorn ambience and pulsing kosmiche of “The Star Are Dying”. Engines dead, solar chimes sail toward the twin systems of existential dread and tranquilized bliss, zoning guitar tones stretched out in waveform, prickly feedback toasting the senses under total immersion. “Butchery” is impossibly pretty in its irradiated wake, fingers audible on the fret, a synth wash applied to a simple acoustic meander.
Shattering the silence, guitar then crunches in low and dirty on “Waylay”, drums a minute later, this treacly trudge slowly growing in stature to a stoned head-bang, wah latterly slicing through the fuzz, gnarly guitar parts jamming out the meaty tail-end. With echoes of the piercing pistons of old, it’s a welcome return to the unadulterated psych-RAWK of Carlton Melton’s formative years, so too the plugged-in hum of “Three Zero Two”, its protesting pick-up and blown-out cones conjuring a bout of bluesy isolation that turns to neck-popping shred.
Aside from inevitable big “Closer”, its needling motorik tick driving a warp-drive deployment force to slash and burn all before it with white-hot guitar and strangled space-rock scan, all else fades away. There’s no over reliance on shapeless atmosphere this time around though, these horizontal day-dreams treated to the sort of sun-dappled textures that Ripley Johnson has made his calling card, the most surprising of the bunch, the stand-out “Dezebelle”, bathing in buzzed-out piano. With this sort of curve ball, Where This Leads should really be subtitled Nobody Knows, the album as a whole a strong foot forward to the exciting unknown.