Review : Quasi - American Gong
PitchforkFor a band with such an illustrious pedigree Quasi have strangely remained a niche act: Its primary members are Heatmiser's Sam Coomes and Sleater-Kinney and the Jicks' Janet Weiss, and it released records on Touch and Go and Kill Rock Stars. Perhaps that's due to other band commitments; perhaps because Quasi rarely perform outside of the band's Portland hometown. (Though they are about to embark upon a fairly extensive tour in support of this new effort.) Or perhaps it's because Quasi's lyrical content-- from the overt politics of Hot Shit to the silly-yet-obtuse children's poems of When the Going Gets Dark-- can be too arch for some. Or maybe it's just that the band's tricky mixture of jazzy piano honky-tonk, Southern blues guitar, and rambling psychedelica is a jarring concoction that can, for some, be an acquired taste. Whatever the reason, it seems like even the band's best reviews seem to note the band is unlikely to convert new fans.
Well, that is not the case with American Gong. The band's eighth album (and first with bassist Joanna Bolme) is both a summation of its career and an accessible introduction for new listeners. American Gong showcases Weiss' textured, musical fills and muscular beatkeeping and Coomes' bar-piano melodies and bent-note blues guitar riffs. But here they focus on those strengths and boil their songs down to their most essential ingredients: knotty, seasick melodies, heavy riffs, surprisingly sugary harmonies, and virtuosic drumming.
Quasi have always been enamored of repetition, both lyrically and musically, but often to a monotonous effect. Here that becomes a draw. "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez", a mid-tempo rocker featuring barely more than its titular lyrics, makes Coomes' nasal, keening delivery as much a part of the song's syrupy groove as Weiss' undulating drum rolls. And the fuzzy guitar arpeggios anchoring "Bye Bye Blackbird" and cyclical structure and central refrain of "Rockabilly Party" accomplish the same thing....full text
DrownedinsoundIt’s funny how every article concerning Quasi always begins with a sentence involving the words ‘side project’ – including this one it would appear – when they’ve now outstayed the bands the primary musicians were in (Heatmiser and Sleater-Kinney).
Perhaps it’s because they’re a hard band to categorise, with each subsequent release trying something new. Indeed, if one criticism could be made of the band's output in recent years, it’d be that it shoots off in so many tangents that it’s hard to view the records as complete works; you sense there’s a stupendous Best Of lurking in amongst the innards just waiting to be plucked, but that - like The Fiery Furnaces - sometimes the breadth of ideas and stylistic variation slightly smother the songs lurking underneath.
There’s still the odd song here that’ll be a divisive issue for even hardcore fans of the band (such as the oddity that is ‘Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler’) but thankfully American Gong is a far more coherent and quality controlled record than the bands’ previous two or three outings, their best for some time. Part of that is down to the fact it ‘feels’ a bit more substantial, partly down to the addition of occasional collaborator Joanna Bolme on bass (Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks), almost definitely due to the mixing being shared between Dave Fridmann, Tucker Martine and Steve Fisk, and in no small thanks to the raw songs on show....full text
TheskinnyQuasi have always been seen as something of a footnote in the history of American alternative rock - this despite the band's inherent likeability and a string of wonderful albums that would make most of their peers green with envy. Certainly one can blame the ongoing ambiguity over whether the band is a 'side-project' or not - but with the recent addition of Joanna Bolme on bass and the corpse of Sleater Kinney now very cold indeed, one hopes Quasi will be seen for what they are: one of the most vital and engaging outfits on the indie shop floor. American Gong hits all the major pleasure centres dead on: Sam Coomes' writing is arch-but-lovable, fusing Cobain-like couplets and lurching melodic chops to supreme effect, whilst the bombastic production underlines that Janet Weiss is one of the very best - and most swinging - rock drummers of her generation. A peach of an album from start to finish. [Mark Shukla]...full text
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