There's a line in the song Bedbug Town on the new Quasi album that goes “You work all your life and you don't see a dime”, it may not have been intentional but it say a lot about this hard working band, whose extensive back catalogue seems to have been overlooked. They continue in the vein of cult nineties bands channelling the scruffy slacker pop of Pavement mixed in with the sci-fi conceptual leanings of Grandaddy and the psychedelic eccentrics of The Flaming Lips. Since their first proper album, 1997's R&B Transmogrification, the group has proved to be just as comfortable with progressive rock leaning synthesizer excursions as they are with jagged-edged riffs. In fact there seems to be very little that is of limits in this groups hard to pin down repertoire.
The group centres round ex-husband and wife Sam Coombes and Janet Weiss with a revolving line-up of band mates assisting them. Members of Quasi may be better known for the projects they have worked on, rather than for the band itself, having at times been members of Sleater Kinney, Bright Eyes, Stephen Malkmus, Elliot Smith and Built to Spill. Their latest record Mole City, a double album, has a rather busy and intricate album artwork that gives some idea as to the chaos that lies within.
You Can Stay But You Gotta Go begins with a guitar riddled with the kind of fuzzy distortion that makes it sound like its ripping itself apart. The vocals fall about the guitar line, Coombes sings of the incomprehensible nature of life “What’s it all about?/ Haven't got a clue”, ending the song with the kind of low-end noise befitting of a doom metal band. Headshrinker is amongst the highlights, it hints at something ominous with short and hushed vocals and bubbling synthesizers before a the haunted lead line kicks in for the tracks instrumental second half. On the following track RIP drummer and occasional vocalist Janet takes over, making for a pleasant respite with folky finger picked chords on a clean electric guitar. The Goat starts of as a piano led pop song that could've come from Bowie's early seventies work, especially as it gives itself up to some of the traits of prog rock excess with its duelling guitar harmonies
The lyrics can range from indecipherable to straight forward. Sam Coombes has a handle on effective imagery of which this album is lined with, from the apocalyptic to the to comical. His songs feature down and out characters and critiques of society as he sings, “Live the dream that dreams itself”. And despite his raw and strained delivery, Coombes does know how to employ a good vocal hook.
This double album could have had some harsher editing to make for a leaner more approachable track list, but that would have taken away a lot of what makes Mole City rather good, you have straight up rock and punk alongside piano ballads and retro synthesizers, all held together with a patchwork of interludes made up of guitar noise or cut up samples. On paper it looks like it'll fall apart, but on record it somehow all holds together whether the group are exploring discordant blues of Fat Fanny Land and power chord punk rock on Double Deuce. They may not have reached the commercial success of some of their peers, but you get the impression that it won't ever bother them, as long as they can keep on making whatever music they want to try they're hand at next.
Originally Posted on figure8magazine.co.uk