Do you ever look at bands that everyone else is so enraptured by and wonder, “What the hell are they seeing that I’m not?” Of course you have; all of us who’ve dipped our toes into the Lethe waters of Indie have experienced such moments. I for one will admit that when I first heard Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West in 2002 or so, it didn’t do much for the person I was at the time. But a few years later, at the start of my college career, I returned to Lonesome Crowded and it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. And while it may not hit me with the same sort of impact today, even further down the road, at the time, in that context of disorientation, relocation, and a decidedly uncertain future, the album made perfect sense. Something clicked, and the scales fell from my eyes (or ears).
I could say the same for Quasi. I’ve never understood the fascination with Sam Coomes’ and Janet Weiss’ little garage-pop trifles, and I have to admit I’m one of those people who, when I see someone who’s in eighty thousand bands the way Ms. Weiss is, it makes me wonder how much talent she can actually invest in any single project. The image that always comes to my mind is one of an overworked, exhausted hummingbird, flitting to and fro from band to band, stretching itself ever more thin in the process. The only musician today who seems to be able to keep up such a pace and workload and turn out consistent solid gold is Spencer Krug, and that’s because his art-school pretensions keep his mind ever turning, too restless to fix in place for more than shimmering moments.
Quasi can’t hit that same emotional level. Instead they’re content to pump out slight, mildly engaging Northwest indie pop with some admittedly thrilling harmonies. On their latest, American Gong, this last is the factor that makes the album initially appealing to those outside the converted. Opener “Repulsion” has the kind of boy-girl harmony we’re all suckers for, words drawn out like Silly String and covered in vocal taffy. The problem is that too much which follows repeats the same formula with sadly little variation. Even when the band slows things down a bit on tracks like “Everything & Nothing At All”, it just comes off as a more lurching variation on the same garagey, Beat Happening-with-a-good-producer schematic. The lyrics are no redeeming aide, either. “Everything” contains such face-palm-inducing banalities as “How can I feel so low? I don’t know why, I just know, I love you so.” Elsewhere, “Bye Bye Blackbird” puts us through six-and-a-half minutes of the same plodding riff, ad infinitum. And as if there were no deeper nadir than this, friends, the album ends with, literally, a howling dog. For a full minute. Seriously.
Really the only respite here is found in the spare but pleasant, most instrumental acoustic ditty “The Jig Is Up”, and those two and a half minutes are just not enough to redeem this churning clunker. I wanted to give Quasi the old college try, but with Coomes’ playing up his usual poor-man’s-Malkmus croon, this album unfortunately comes off as one big mega-yawn. New member Joanna Bolme on bass is practically invisible in impact (coincidentally she’s also a member of Malkmus’ Jicks), and there’s really very little that marks this release as much different than any other Quasi full-length preceding it. This trio could best summed up by myself as “nothing earth-shattering”, and nothing here has changed such blanket opinions, I’m afraid. No life-changing dorm-room indie-pop here, sorry. I guess some bands I just don’t “get” stay that way for a reason, eh?