Let’s pretend that this review is about me for a moment. I never got into Quasi. Despite their collective indie rock royalty status (Heatmiser, Sleater-Kinney, The Jicks, etc.) and their penchant for the psychedelic and kaleidoscopic, I just never bothered. I’m not even sure what turned me off, but I do have a tendency to root for the underdog. Well, times have changed, and though no one has ever compared Quasi to The Beatles or Jesus, I would grant them underdog status now. Their brand of rock ‘n’ roll, though not ‘out of style,’ is certainly not the cutting edge of Pitchfork dance-gaze freak-punk folk-fuck en vogue that your kid sister is creaming over. This is by virtue of Quasi just doing their thing, being themselves. The combination of this ‘throwback to ’96’ sound with confident restraint, and that Quasi have already proven themselves to the die-hards, I’m going to call this timeless underdoggery.
That’s why American Gong is a really apt title for this record, as if it is a nod to Marc Bolan and David Berman concurrently (though I’m sure not the intention). The Silver Jews with diesel coursing through the veins or T-Rex without the brainless fixation on cars and sex, this is good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, plus some sneering brainfood. The presence of brawn is not to the detriment of good songwriting, either.
Lyrically, Sam Coomes has a way of spitting out clichés in new contexts. What would be cutesy puns in the hands of others come out downright vitriolic in Quasi — not to say the man comes across as mean-spirited. “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez” says it all; for those of us who didn’t do so well in French class, that’s “Let the Good Times Roll,” and I’d likely scoff if the title were in English. It’s a dirty little trick, reducing the lyrics to glossolalia with repetition. I can think of worse revelatory mantras. “Everything and Nothing at All” comes out as a weepy summation of the conflicted human condition, but I can hear a sense of knowing better than reducing ‘life’ to just that, as if the crime worth crying over is the longing to be everything and nothing all at the same time.
Quasi are all grown up. Bedroom psychedelia has been kicked out of Mom’s basement. Guided By Voices made their ‘clean’ record ages ago. So what is the relevance of post-Hot Shit Quasi? I don’t give a hot shit. They are just doing their thing, man. Still churning away at that philosophy of life, and getting their kicks with rock. What’s wrong with that? All the kids are mining Krautrock like Holger Czukay is the new Stockhausen, but I like a little dash of song craft in my swirly-fractal music too. What are our children going to say when the countless Hawkwind wannabe bands of today become the new ‘dad-rock’ of tomorrow? I hope they turn to Quasi, because no son of mine is going to come into my house with a Phish record without getting shipped off to reform school. Mark my words, Junior.