Review : Quasimoto - American Gong
ThephoenixI don't know what it is about the top left corner of our country that moves its indie-rockers to cuten up their miseries into adorable little creatures (see: Death Cab, Built To Spill, Elliott Smith, and my favorite specimen, Quasi), but it's a trick that just keeps working. Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss have a long history as Quasi and an even longer history of their own. And though I'm not particularly interested in how their divorce went however long ago, the band's oft-neurotic braiding of beauty and beastliness has long been central to their appeal. (Well, that and Coomes's bottomless cup of sugary hooks.)
A good part of Quasi's 17-year career has been spent figuring out that they need a bassist more than their Rocksichord. For American Gong, they enlisted Weiss's erstwhile co-Jick, Joanna Bolme — and the effect is a reinvention. Her bass on "Little White Horse" (a song that channels the sparse, arch spirit of the late, great Regrets) is so charmingly dexterous and confident, it's like Theo Huxtable coming down the stairs....full text
DustedmagazineAmerican Gong is frustrating. It’s not a bad album by far, based on the usual criteria one arranges on the bar graph of goodness: it’s melodic, paced well, pleasant and so on. At the same time, however, there’s nothing that marks it as unique in any real way or different from any Quasi album of the past: same existential themes, same harmonies, same roxichord. Gong really brings up the question that should plague anyone listening to a band that creates music over a long period of time: what should one expect from an artist as time goes on? Should we as listeners expect them to change? Should we expect them to play their same game over and over? Does a unique game grow boring after the nth iteration? Whose fault is it then: the audience for expecting the same thing from the artist or the artist for feeding their audience the same thing? It’s a baffling, vicious circle.
Quasi made a name for themselves with these bleak, Sartrean pop songs that heavily featured lead singer/songwriter Sam Coomes’ roxichord, an overdriven harpsichord-like keyboard. The fin-de-siècle pair Featuring “Birds” and Field Studies were probably the best or most noteworthy, or at least the albums that brought them greater acclaim. That Coomes’ ex-wife and (now former) Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss was in the band helped keep the tedious tongues of the rock press wagging, but their combination of desolation and pop was powerful without the added gossip. The acclaim was rightly deserved.
If that’s true – and this is a problem I constantly find myself in – then what’s wrong with doing that over and over and over again? As I argued in my review of Built to Spill’s latest album, there should be nothing wrong with a certain artist playing a unique aesthetic game repeatedly. The problem lies in repetition of the drearily uncreative artists who continually play Groundhog’s Day with whatever boring or clichéd tropes they started out with, not bands like Quasi. Yet, at the same time, American Gong just feels tired. It doesn’t feel like Coomes, Weiss and bassist Joanna Bolme are really having fun, and perhaps the added caveat should be that playing a certain aesthetic game over and over is only problematic if the game-players turn it into a rote activity free of discovery....full text
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....full text
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