Kill Rock Stars
Quasi’s back after a four-year hiatus — yes, it’s really been that long since When The Going Gets Dark, and a whole lot longer since Featuring “Birds” dropped “It’s Hard To Turn Me On” and “Our Happiness Is Guaranteed” on our heads — and oh what a lovely return it is. This first Kill Rock Stars release delivers the fullest sound yet from the Portland, Oregon trio of Sam Coomes, Janet Weiss, and Joanna Bolme, and a disc full of songs bound to stick with you for at least the next four years.
It’s difficult not to hear hints of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks when half of that band makes up two-thirds of this one, and Weiss’s harmonies remind me of the best Kim Deal songs, but Quasi has its own sound — harmonious, guitar-rich, and rock-heavy. You might expect the vocals to get lost beneath such musical meat, but no, Coomes’s voice is lifted through some sort of wizardry to rest in perfect balance on top of everything.
Bolme kicks American Gong off with the big bass number “Repulsion,” which tells the hard-luck tale of a guy who just can’t seem to get any. “I lie flat in my soft saggy sack / You roll over and show me your back.” Sad stuff, but man this is a great song.
“Little White Horse” is just a sweet little coming-of-age and then going back story, full of drug innuendoes and vermin. Snakes and rats are a recurring theme, and once you’ve heard the whole album, you know intimately whom “they” represent. Along with “Now What,” “Everything & Nothing At All” sounds the most like 1990s-era Quasi, winding in with a drum and guitar intro that calls to mind “You Turn Me On,” but it doesn’t stay there long. Coomes’ super-sliding lead vocal, punctuated by plaintive piano plunks, croons, “If some broken scheme rips a hole in your dream / Don’t let them get you down.” Good advice if you can manage it.
“Bye Bye Blackbird” features sweet, sweet harmonies — how Weiss pulls off that angel’s voice while pounding the shit out of her drums just stuns me — but an ominous bass line and a creepy guitar track clue you in to the fact that this is no hymn, and the lyrics confirm it. “Snakes and lizards are sucking up the gold / Chrome-plated plastic they give you in return / Will teach you a lesson you shouldn’t have to learn.” Well, let’s not leave anyone wondering how we feel about corporate America, okay, Quasi? “TNT, aaah!” Those harmonies really stand out again on “Rockabilly Party,” a Coomes and Weiss duet of gorgeous vocals with a raunchy guitar accompaniment.
“The Jig Is Up” is a nice acoustic number that seems to provide the most positive imagery on the record, though that’s not saying much because the dark, dark stuff of failure lurks beneath every track. Even “Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler” is a tortured lament and not the Mardi Gras party you might expect; “Howler” could not be any more desolate. Don’t let that get you down though, because there’s love and hope and rebirth in here somewhere, and you’ll be tapping your toes and bobbing your head despite yourself.
There isn’t one mediocre track on American Gong; it’s jam-packed with the talent of musicians who know what the hell they’re doing. This is a fun record.