Monday, February 22, 2010
Pitchfork have reviewed Quasi's most recent effort, American Gong, giving the record a score of 7.2 out of 10...
[pitchfork.com] For 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.
American Gong is also blessedly free of typical Quasi jams-- which work live, but can drag on record. There are still lurching, aggro guitar solos and hints at foundations for what will become showcases for improv on tour, but the album's arrangements are simplified and mostly serve their vital hooks. There are some surprisingly quiet moments-- from the subtle, acoustic track "The Jig Is Up" to the mournful opening of piano-peppered "Everything and Nothing at All"-- that show off the band's dexterity. But with an experimenter's adventurous spirit, they eschew pure prettiness by adding a shambolic solo or acidic harmony to keep things from getting predictable. And 16 years into their career, that's a valuable thing. Here, a rewarding one, too.
— Rebecca Raber, February 22, 2010
Posted by Dan Goldin at 6:31 PM