The Golden Grass (Mini-LP Sleeve)
"What sets Brooklyn trio The Golden Grass apart from the hundreds of bands the world over who cull the bulk of their influence from the heavy rock of the early ’70s and/or the original psychedelic era is a relentlessly positive mindset. Where the current retro rock movement — and because of the modern production on the three-piece’s self-titled Svart Records full-length debut, I’d hesitate to even call it “retro” — spearheaded by the likes of Graveyard and the first couple Witchcraft outings has resulted in a slew of acts pretending to worship both the Devil and Jinx Dawson with due candles, incense and pomp, The Golden Grass turn that formula on its head and delight in a boogie free from these thematic constraints and the inherent moodiness they bring to classic rock sound. This was evident from their 2013 debut single, One More Time b/w Tornado, and the limited 456th Div. tape (review here), and the upbeat vibes remain consistent throughout The Golden Grass‘ farthest-out, most wandering moments, which arrive in the 12:51 penultimate jammer “Wheels,” a side B standout on a 36-minute LP that in no way overstays its welcome. As they did for the prior single, guitarist/vocalist Michael Rafalowich (Strange Haze), bassist Joe Noval and drummer/vocalist Adam Kriney (La Otracina) recorded with Andrea Zavareei at Urban Spaceman Studio, and Jeff Berner mixed at Galuminum Foil, and it’s a collaboration whose dividends show themselves in the crisp but natural feel of the songs and the balance that highlights organic tones without sacrificing the clarity of the vocal arrangements.
Those arrangements are a big part of what gives The Golden Grass‘ The Golden Grass its personality. There’s laughter on the album, and though its songs are heavy and relatively extended — the shortest is opener “Please Man” at 5:23 — it’s a friendly, inviting listen that even at its most driving, heading toward the finale of closer “Sugar ‘n’ Spice,” in the early verses of “Wheels” or eliciting the riffy bounce of “One More Time,” the initial single which makes a reappearance here as the centerpiece of the tracklist, is never outwardly aggressive. Rafalowich and Kriney trade off in the lead spot, but whoever’s out front, the other is never far off, and as “Please Man” emerges with a drum fill from its build-up intro wash of psychedelic guitar, it’s not long before the two are working together to get the most out of their harmonic range. The balance of straightforward, catchy rock and psychedelia is something else that shifts fluidly throughout the proceedings, and when they want to, The Golden Grass are well capable of playing one side off the other. “Please Man” does this in Rafalowich‘s opening and subsequent solo sections, as well as the slow, dreamy ending that gives way to the uptempo push of “Stuck on a Mountain,” the call and responses of which seem to be begging for a sing-along. There’s more engaging vocal interplay and Noval offers no shortage of texture in matching and side-stepping the riffs, but the real payoff in “Stuck on a Mountain” is when a build opens up to the chorus and The Golden Grass still don’t get mad.
It’s not just about restraint, like they’re holding back. These just aren’t angry songs, and the album is that much better because they don’t try to be. The hook of “Stuck on a Mountain” is downright pretty, and Rafalowich answers with floating lead lines over the steady rhythm and jazzy cymbal work of Kriney before the trio poke their heads up from the jam for another chorus, only to return afterwards to the sweet meandering, cutting back in the last minute to the verse figure en route to the more motoring groove of “One More Time,” the third of side A’s resonant choruses. In light of the 7″ that came as the band’s first recorded output, “One More Time” is all the more familiar, though between its “Easy rider woman…” verse and turnaround to the chorus based on the title-line, there’s little about it that’s not endearing anyway. Though somewhat less exploratory than “Stuck on a Mountain” or certainly “Wheels,” which follows, once it gets going, “One More Time” keeps the laid back spirit of The Golden Grass moving down a sun-baked highway, green trees all around. There’s no rush in it, and they’re happy to ride out that chorus — rightly so — ending the album’s first half with a smooth fade. “Wheels” begins somewhat more solidified than did “Please Man,” but retains a psych feel, and gradually shifts to a relatively subdued first verse with Kriney on the lead vocal. Noval delivers a highlight performance on bass under layers of Rafalowich‘s guitar, and “Wheels” provides The Golden Grass with both their jammiest and their most rocking moments.
They seem to revel in both. Fittingly, “Wheels” is a road song — one of its hooks: “Out on the road/I’m comin’ right back home to you, girl” — so the movement makes sense, and as they impressively transition from one side to another, the boogie, the wailing leads, the intricate groove all seem at their most fervent. Before the halfway point, they’re off and jamming, and it only gets more spaced-out the farther they go, Rafalowich leading the way most of the time — Noval‘s fills after the five-minute mark are not to be missed — until a culminating swirl gives way to wandering noise and the chorus kicks in again. It’s Kriney who gets the next solo on drums, and he ably caries the next several minutes until the guitar and bass sneak back in and the first verse makes a return appearance for an impressive finish. Nine times out of 10, a song like “Wheels” closes the album on which it appears, but The Golden Grass cap their debut on firmer-structured ground with “Sugar ‘n’ Spice,” Rafalowich driving the swagger through the more open verses and Kriney taking over for the motoring transition in the second half. They find room even here to jam, but the good times round out with Rafalowich and Kriney both reprising the chorus in lighthearted harmony before a big rock finish. There have been comparisons to classic rock acts from Hendrix to Creedence Clearwater Revival to Blue Cheer to Led Zeppelin to Blue Öyster Cult, but none of them quite captures the entirety of what The Golden Grass are doing on their debut album because, as in the best of cases, they’re taking the influence of these landmark acts and creating something of their own from them. And the result is a sound that bridges a gap few these days even dare approach. Get heavy, get happy." - The Obelisk