2014 was a very strange year for me.
It began with one of my best friends losing his oldest daughter in a car accident in January. In May my mother-in-law died suddenly. Two days later we flew to Colorado for an amazing four days in the Rocky Mountains to go to a wedding and contemplate loss at high altitudes. My wife got a new job that kept her on the road quite often, and then at the end of July I discovered anxiety attacks.
All in all, it was what you’d call a whirlwind year.
Thankfully I topped that year off with Night Flights debut album Night Flights Vol. 1. It’s a record filled with lush synth arrangements, dark electronic, and lo-fi vibes with a knack for swallowing up all your problems during its run time and encasing you in a blanket of analog warmth. For as tumultuous a year 2014 was for me, it was the kind of album I greatly needed to end it on.
Who is Night Flights? Well you’re probably familiar with the Night Flights show that was on the USA Network back in the 80s, right? Okay, so Night Flights the band has absolutely no connection with that, other than the name. Rich Millman is the guy behind Night Flights. Millman is also the synth and guitar player for the California psych rock band Carlton Melton. Melton have been making geodesic dome psych rock for over 10 years now. When you listen to CM you get the vibe of Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach-era Neil Young mixed with Spacemen 3 and late-80s noise rock, but layered with woozy synths. Their records are these unfussy, gauzy improvisations that range from big riffs and Bonham-drums to atmospheric ambient.
Night Flights is just Rich Millman, some synthesizers, and a 4-track recorder. It’s lo-fi electronic without sounding very lo-fi. Sure there’s that tape hiss vibe, as if you’re listening to the record with a serious double ear infection and hydrogen peroxide-soaked cotton balls in your ear holes. And with the exception of opening track “Night Flights”, the album has an overall ominous feel. It’s like space madness is just about to set in; or maybe you’re a little paranoid from one too many hits of that Mendocino County herb. Just check out the album cover. That looks like the most fun space station….ever.
Legal California weed aside, Night Flights Vol. 1 was a bit of a revelation to me. I felt Rich Millman had made something truly special(and still do, btw.) Like the albums of Carlton Melton, Millman’s work here didn’t feel fussed over. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hand wringing going on within these tunes. I know Millman grew up on a lot of the same stuff I did, which was a ton of 70s and 80s rock and roll. His synthesizer references are as much Eddie Van Halen’s work on Fair Warning(check out “Corpse Strut”for further proof) as he was by anything coming out of Berlin in the early 70s. So that show Night Flights? Well Millman grew up watching it, so the whole B-vibe of that series does play an important role in the sound here. Some of the songs, like the wonky “Alpha Jerk” could’ve been incidental music to some oddball sci-fi flick that could’ve played at 2am. Also, if you listen closely you might be able to imagine the beginning of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle” floating around in there.
Or maybe you just dreamt that movie and the music. Who knows?
All that aside, Rich Millman pulls these songs out of the ether of memory and time and puts them to tape into a masterful and cohesive electronic album that felt like a buoy that marked a point where I should be careful to swim past, but shouldn’t be afraid to hang around if I was so inclined. Songs like “Night Flights”, “Origins”, and “Lure” tow the line between psychedelic soundscapes and meditative ambient music. “Night Flights” is epic in scope, and the brightest of the bunch. “Lure” feels like floating amongst the stars and something maybe slightly sinister. “Origins” is quiet and kind of melancholy. “Alpha Jerk” cruises past the 10 minute mark in a blaze of electronic rhythms and swaths of glistening synth, like an electronic bee swarm. The album closes on the dark and sinister “Corpse Strut”. This would’ve fit perfectly in some exploitation slasher flick directed by Abel Ferarra.
Night Flights Vol. 1 seems like one of those records that in a decade or so some clueless vinyl digger might find in a record shop and will buy on the cover alone. They’ll get it home, throw it on the turntable, and will have their minds blown listening to this low key, lo-fi masterpiece. At least, I hope that’s how it goes down at some point. For me, it was a fellow musicphile located in the UK that hipped me to the Night Flights vibe. Me stepping into the world of Night Flights is what got me into Carlton Melton in the first place. It’s a rich and dense musical growth that is worth getting yourself lost in.
2014 was a pretty rough year for me and those around me, but thanks to music I was able to ride those rough waves with a little more balance and stability. Night Flights Vol. 1 was the perfect way to end that year.
Hopefully there will be a Vol. 2 at some point(please say yes, Rich.)