Graded on a Curve: Grassy Sound,
The Sound of Grassy Sound

Ace guitarist Nick Millevoi has played in manifold situations, amongst them the Philly/NYC-based Desertion Trio, an outfit accurately described as “Crazy Horse meets Coltrane.” But for his new project Grassy Sound, Millevoi shifts gears into a blend of Exotica and surf rock in partnership with Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, as Meat Puppets drummer Derrick Bostrum guests on three tracks. Fellow Meat Pups Cris and Curt Kirkwood even show up to sing on one of The Sound of Grassy Sound’s selections, which are otherwise sans vocals. This warm and friendly debut is out now on vinyl and digital through Destiny Records of Austin, TX.

The stylistic line between Desertion Trio and Grassy Sound isn’t as pronounced as the intro above might suggest. In fact, Stabinsky contributed to Twilight Time, Desertion Trio’s sophomore LP from 2019, a covers-only affair released on wax by Milan, Italy’s Long Song Records that included a Les Baxter-penned tune (“Busy Port”) and a couple of numbers with Joe Meek connections (“Taboo” and “I Hear a New World”), plus choices recorded by The Platters (the title cut), Santo & Johnny (“Sleepwalk”), and Gene Pitney (“Town Without Pity”).

Cuneiform Records, the estimable Silver Spring, MD-based label, released Desertion Trio’s third album Numbers Maker in 2021, a decidedly less retro pop-inclined affair (though “Taboo” does return in a fresh version surrounded by four originals by Millevoi). Numbers Maker found Jason Nazary replacing Kevin Shea on drums as bassist Johnny Deblase stuck around, and it was Desertion Trio’s first as a unadorned three-piece (along with Stabinsky’s input, Twilight Time featured vocals from Tara Middleton, while 2018 debut Midtown Tilt included organ by Jaime Saft and percussion by Ashley Tini).

Numbers Maker navigates that aforementioned Crazy Horse-Coltrane zone pretty well, but it’s just as easily assessed as residing in the general neighborhood of jazz-prog-rock heaviness, and with the skilled execution for which trios are noted. And this all applies to Grassy Sound in that the playing on their first LP is both tastefully proficient and refreshingly non-trite, the latter instance especially worth noting as the intersection of Exotica and surf is frequented by far too many idling hacks.

Just as important is how Millevoi’s appreciation of Exotica and surf is clearly sincere; it’s stated that he came of age with the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and the retro popularity of lounge, which naturally included Martin Denny, a clear if subtly applied influence on Grassy Sound’s sound (it’s right there in the band name). It’s all given something of a structural freshening up and tweaking, as Thelonious Monk and Captain Beefheart are mentioned by Millevoi, though neither is explicitly discernible as the record spins.

As the guitarist says, it’s more about integrating “shifting meters and a bit of abstract tonality,” aspects that never undermine The Sound of Grassy Sound’s listenability factor. That all the tracks save one (and we’ll get to that one) are originals, really intensifies the overall appeal. Opener “Skylark” establishes a vintage thrust, as it sounds as if Millevoi is playing through an old-school tube amp and is definitely stepping on a pedal or two.

The atmosphere is surfy and lounged out, the latter sensibility deepened by Stabinsky’s non-noodle-some organ, but without fully falling into either side of the equation. Bostrom enters the fray with “Astronaut,” with Stabinsky’s digits broadening the template, alternating between electric piano and organ as Millevoi prowess is flexed throughout.

Folks into Dick Dale are likely to fully approve of “Astronaut”’s gist. But with “Another Blue Moon,” they return to the duo configuration, detouring from the lounge into a rootsier place. More to the point, it sounds like something heard in a sparsely populated rural dive right around closing time on an otherwise uneventful Saturday night. This is a wholly wonderful thing. So is “New Harbor Light Boogie,” which offers the sounds of literal surf (like tides, ya’ dig?). It’s almost like a very young Dennis Hopper is trying to make it with an equally youthful chick who works as a mermaid in a boardwalk sideshow.

But I digress. “Flitzer” noticeably ups the distortion, and as the cut rolls, the duo finesses in a few soundtracky elements, specifically Saturday matinee B-movie sci-fi ambiance as instrumental freakout and a touch of the ol’ maestro Morricone. “Lu Fran” piles even more spaghetti onto the platter, while “Worried” swings back into the vicinity of that weekend dive, but it’s really the closing version of the chestnut “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” that cinches up The Sound of Grassy Sound as something special.

This is where the Kirkwoods step into the frame. Fans of the Meat Puppets’ early spasms no doubt recall this very song on the Pup’s debut, where is continues to shine as a beacon of punk-era form destruction. But here, the treatment is much near to the Sons of the Pioneers original from way back in the pre-WWII times.

Not at all a bad experience. And yet, laying on another layer of complexity is Millevoi’s affection for jazz guitar titan Grant Green’s take of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” from the terribly slept on Goin’ West, a Blue Note LP recorded in 1962 and released in ’69 (featuring Herbie Hancock!) that also included “Red River Valley,” which Desertion Trio recorded on Twilight Time.

Wow. Talk about multiple facets. This is just part of why The Sound of Grassy Sound is a helluva lot more interesting than a couple of cats in velvet smoking jackets and ascots churning out the umpteenth variation on “Quiet Village.”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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