Essential New Music: Carlton Melton’s “Turn To Earth”

During his latter-period experimentations with non-traditional sounds and arrangements, Jimi Hendrix referred to his collaborations as an “Electric Church.” More than a half-century later, the cover art to Carlton Melton’s latest album can be interpreted as a subtle nod to Hendrix’s place of bluesy worship: A vine-covered electric crucifix towers over a country road, hinting at the awe and mystery of spiritual salvation while remaining rooted in the dirt and grime of a deserted, autumnal field.

In fact, Carlton Melton has always drawn on the high and the low, the intangible and the physical. For more than a decade, the Northern California trio has oscillated between ethereal, amorphous introspections and gritty space-rock muscle-flexing. The band consistently illustrates that psychedelia (from the Greek for “mind revealing”) can accommodate a broad spectrum of such brain-fuckery.

And indeed, Carlton Melton has proven itself particularly adept at fingering our cerebral folds. Now a quartet with the addition of Anthony Taibi (White Manna, DDT), the group explores the darker, hidden recesses of psychedelia. An extra pair of hands on guitar and keys, Taibi adds a thicker layer of mood, not just to the ambient tracks (dig the synth doom of “Cosmicity”) but also to the thundering krautrock numbers (wrap your lips around “Cloudstorming,” “Mutiny” and “Unlock The Land”).

All-instrumental and largely improvised, Turn To Earth finds Carlton Melton yielding to the unpredictable winds of psychedelia, like devoted followers of an inscrutable spiritualism. Where Hendrix preached from the pulpit of an Electric Church, Carlton Melton climbs atop the cross and submits to its improvisational fate.

Recommended drug pairing: LSD blotter disguised as communion wafer with a swig of sacramental brewski.

—Eric Bensel