Most musical acts have a “sound.” Sometimes, the sound lies in the instruments played, the miscellaneous gegaws dangled off them, and whatever production skills are brought into the studio. Sometimes, preferably, there will be one or more techniques of playing that are interesting and unique. Sometimes, even better, the two are combined. But best of all is when the act has an individual and unique style of songwriting that transcends whatever musical wrapper you might place upon it.
Quasi’s Featuring “Birds” is one of those rare albums that catches that even rare last breed in a perfect moment. Intelligent beyond measure, both musically and lyrically, Quasi offers a collection of sixteen songs, each of them unique in sense and approach. Start with “Our Happiness Is Guaranteed,” a brewing explosion of fuzzed organ, in-your-head drums and low slinking bass, where utopian lyrics describe our humanity as just another disposable evolutionary trait. “It’s Hard To Tunr Me On” has a tempo that is a slow and steady as a museum pendulum, yet the harpsichord and bass fill it out with a gorgeous background for lyrics like “Mornings, I tell you what I dreamed/ Before we’re swallowed by the work machine/ And spit out in the evening, drained half dry/ And that is why you turn me on, and it’s hard to turn me on.” There’s a gently lilting waltz with the unlikely title of “You Fucked Yourself,” vivid lyrics of reprobation, and a liquid guitar line that handily ties the verses together.
All instruments are credited to Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes, and most of the songs go to Coomes, though Weiss’ single contribution, “Tomorrow Will Hide,” shows that she’s no hired gun, with a densely shifting tapestry of vocals, guitars and a free-falling drum beat. Instrumentally, they can play the hell out of anything, and in fact a good portion of the songs here take the form of an extended instrumental passage (usually about two-thirds of the song) followed by a terse and meaningful scattering of lyrics that neatly encapsulate everything. In fact, Quasi seems to like to like ending their songs with the song titles — something which happens in almost half the songs.
There has been a lot of great music released this year, and competition for “best album so far” is stiff, to the point that I’m feeling like abandoning the whole competition in a torrent of gratitude for whatever higher power is in charge of hatching albums like these. Featuring “Birds” easily joins those ranks. It’s something I can see myself playing over and over again, not just now or this month, but through the years. Up Records, P.O. Box 21328, Seattle, WA 98111-3328