Quasi formed in Portland, Ore., in 1993, which means that it's been fearlessly rocking since long before your website launched or you booted up an iPod. For years -- 17 to be exact -- it was a duo consisting of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss. In 2006, Joanna Bolme (of Stephen Malkmus + The Jicks) joined the band on bass.
Quasi flings words and notes relentlessly, hurling music across the stage like grenades. It is explosive and electrifying. Coomes devours his instruments, whether it is keyboard or guitar, fusing melody and mayhem. His voice can go from deadpan to caterwauling, from a lovely lilt to a sardonic sting. Weiss is the avalanche (earthquake? tsunami? volcano?) of drummers. Really, just step aside and make a soft landing for your jaw, because it’s very likely to drop. Plus, Weiss can sing, which means that Quasi has harmonies; they hint at sweetness, settling into the halcyon moment for a while, before you realize that the words conjure a creeping sense of unease.
Quasi’s songs teeter between optimism and despair, fantastical journeys and harsh realism; this is a pop band for people who like their pop throttled. Coomes, Weiss and Bolme are consummate players who let go of the reins to let the wildness accumulate; who space out and make the music disintegrate, blur and tumble before it falls back into the groove. Their playing is proficiently, seamlessly ragged.
Quasi’s new album, American Gong, is still ringing in my ears. And by ringing, I mean that it’s obliterated and unstuffed the cushiony music that’s been singing me to sleep for the past few years. Personally, I’m well rested and ready to move on. American Gong signals that the musical group hug we’ve been stuck in for a while is over. Gong lurches and veers; it reels, resets, crawls and moans. But the album also professes beauty; it surfaces from the murkiness and soars. In the midst of this awesome sonic storm are expertly crafted compositions and arrangements, gravel and grime-coated rock, psych and pop tunes that never lose their shine.
Listen to “Repulsion,” listen to “Little White Horse,” listen to “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Wait! Listen to the whole thing. “Black Dogs And Bubbles.” Yes! Yeah! Yay! Words just seem silly compared to the feeling of wanting to jump around.
Here’s something that resembles a cheat sheet: there’s a lot of guitar playing on this album.
Let me end by saying that Quasi is a stellar and inventive band. On American Gong they sound inspired, happy to be playing, even joyful. I think kids will discover Quasi for the first time on American Gong. And long-time fans will wonder where all the time has gone and be thankful that Quasi is still around to provide the unofficial soundtrack to our hopelessly hopeful lives. Rise up!