In the tradition of indie rock duos – particularly those comprisinga drummer and singer/multi instrumentalist, Quasi must have been one ofthe first. Formed in 1993 by Janet Weiss, before she went on to becomethe drumming third of Sleater Kinney, and former ElliottSmith cohort Sam Coomes, Quasi has survived solo projects byCoomes, the breakup of their relationship and the continuing success ofSleater Kinney. It would seem then, that Quasi is a labour of love forboth members.
Being part of the Portland scene which not only spawned SleaterKinney and Elliott Smith but is also home to Stephen Malkmus,you might expect Quasi’s music to be of the slacker side of rock; lo-fiperhaps. And while there is a certain looseness in their sound,partially driven by Weiss’s bombastic drumming, When the Going GetsDark is a surprisingly eclectic album with a richly textured sound.Apparently, this is the first album in a while (and there’s been sevenso far) which hasn’t been home recorded, and it sounds like they’vemade the most of it.
So despite the connection with the aforementioned Portland ‘scene’,Quasi probably have more in common musically with oddball New Yorkindie sibling duo Fiery Furnaces. From the crashing opening barsof Alice the Goon, it’s evident that there is going to be someexperimental stuff going on – not by the album’s instrumentation, whichis pretty much drums/guitar/piano/voice – but with tempochanges, dissonance and experimental production techniques, all ofwhich seek to skew what might otherwise be fairly straightforwardscratchy guitar pop.
While the title song and Peace and Love are two such tracks, thealbum is better characterised by songs such as The Rhino – a drumworkout accompanied by what sounds like Coomes headbutting the keys onhis piano. Forays into the experimental continue with the instrumentalwhich appends Beyond the Sky and Presto Change-O; the former asonic workout twinning droning organ with various backwards-recordednoises; the latter a repeated motif which becomes increasinglydistorted until dissolving into white noise.
Lyrically, the album maintains the band’s political PC stance whichwas so evident in the predecessing album Hot Shit. “Peace and Love aintno pose/ it’s not some song you sing in shows” Coomes espouses inPeace and Love, while Poverty Sucks has a sly dig at capitalism(“poverty sucks but it ain’t no sin”).
As the album progresses, you get a sense of why Janet Weiss fitswell into a duo/trio format. Her drumming is expansive and high in themix, filling space wherever it finds any. She’s got a crash cymbal andby god, she knows how to use it. Sometimes it’s a little indulgent,particularly the rather tedious Death Culture Blues and the ratherpointless instrumental intro to Merry Xmas. Her harmonies, however,are divine and help flesh out Coomes’ reedy, plaintive holler.
There’s much to appreciate on this latest offering from Quasi butthe band is certainly uncompromising and you need to be into loud drumworkouts, the odd bit of white noise and occasional dissonance to enjoyit fully. Take note of the album’s cover, showing a lion coming out ofthe stereo. It’s not a bad depiction of the album’s contents – so braceyourself.