Quasi want me to listen closely. They want me to consider what’s being sung as much as what’s being played. “You say it’s all good? I’ll tear out your tongue.” That speaks to me; I can feel it right in my mouth.
The headphones are on, and I’m rattled, creeped-out, enthused; I’m unsettled, I’m contemplative, and I’m throwing caution to the wind during those crescendos, cutting caustic as fuck. I’m wobbling in my chair to these noisy, celebrative prosecutions of current indie-pop trends and millennial hipster habits. Quasi, with Sam Coomes destroying the keys and shredding the drums and his rhythmic co-crusader Janet Weiss also on the drums, are back for the first time in three years with their eighth full-length — a double album of prickly rock-outs, pugilistic odes, and utterly eerie ambient entr’actes bridging an anthology of lyricism that shunts your earbud-plugged head toward the mirror to take a good long look (and listen).
“I’m so tired of all the fucking around,” sings Coomes on “Bedbug Town,” an artfully satirical, self-deprecating little ballad, a rigid throwback to old-timey pop-crooners like Ricky Nelson or Buddy Holly, sizzling (as always) with snarling distortion. “It’s a big, bad world, all the time… but somehow you play a trick on your mind, all-positive, all the time.” Weiss softens the daggered words of the chorus with her dulcet-toned backing harmonies while utilizing her chameleonic knack to go from a punk barrage to that quaint, classy pop-shuffle on the skins, allowing Coomes’ provocative lyrics to shine through the cosmic crud of his Link Wray-ishly distorted guitar.
The suggestion on this track is that we should all be tired of fucking around and should start considering the worth of deluding ourselves that the size of our own self-esteem is pretty healthy and that the self-esteem of your peers could grow a bit more too — throw them some bones, why don’t ya? Quasi wants the bone-throwing to stop. Quasi wants to challenge you. (Later in “Bedbug Town”: “You’ve got places to do and things to go… people to screw.”) Quasi wants you to challenge them.
Because there will be no more fucking around here. There is no “going back down” to any town, be it an idealized “scene” or some epic and inspiring underground clique of cool cats making exciting and creative and challenging music. We can’t go back to that underground Mole City because, as one track’s title and chorus implores: “Nostalgia Kills.” It leads to nowhere, a word that subtly haunts the record — not just lyrically but structurally, as certain songs have the downbeat fallout or are just minute-long meditations of agitated noise from darkly sparkling synthesizers. “Gnot” sounds like the fading nightmare of a undeveloped idea from Yellow Submarine that just sort of unravels into oblivion.
On “Nostalgia Kills,” the guitars are bracingly loud and fuzzed-out (again, par for their course), but they skate along with a cool grace, something like Marc Bolan dialoguing with McCartney in the playful moments of “Back In The USSR,” with those whirlpool guitar riffs and playful melodies. The message (listen closely) is to pull yourself together and move forward. “Don’t look back,” Coombes serenades as much as he screams, while his analog keyboard rains down gurgling UFO tractor beams. “Nostalgia Kills.” This is a great track for anyone hoping or complaining for another Featuring “Birds,”, a standout release in their discography.
One must walk through this record, step warily, take one’s time, navigate it. Brave the haunting dirge “Dust Of The Sun,” if ye dare. It doesn’t stuff you up to the 74-minute mark — you’re in and out in just one hour — but it still is as expansive and as filling as a double album. Because it feels like an exercise (like a workout) as much as it feels like an exorcism.
Most tracks are busy with pounded pianos and nimble kick-slam drums, steadily blasted with Coomes’ dexterous guitar dissections (muddied with plenty of pedal effects and caterwauling feedback). Quasi’s feat, here as it has always been, is to provide you the skeleton of a pop song — a hook or an indelible melody, a coaxing drum beat and those elegant piano chimes — but splash the gnarly, neon paint of abstraction and dissonant provocation (bent-up notes, aggravated ambient noise drifts, and prodding lyricism).
The strongest (and maybe most biting) tracks are the one-two punch of “See You On Mars” into “Blasted.” The former is a strutting pop tune, kept afloat by Weiss’ understated punch, blistering with Coomes’ belching organs marching along on top. Our destination is the dark and dirty bars of Mars, but Coomes is more interested in some of the listeners using their “skeleton power” with their long, blank stares, striking the refrain, “Why should I care?” And then, into the more shakeable, beach party-a-go-go feeling pop-rocker of “Blasted,” Coomes, over a riffy guitar, sings about degradation and detachment. “When you’ve got nowhere to go/ Nowhere/ Is where you’re gonna be.” (Or, to go back to “Bedbug Town” one last time: “I don’t really care if I’m going nowhere/ Nowhere’s just somewhere to be.”
This double album could be a parody of/celebration of/or cathartic remedy for: nihilism, while also indicting the “like” syndrome of a Facebook-fucked music world. “You do me one-up, and I’ll do you one-down,” Coomes elbows you back.
Listen. Look in the mirror. What do you really like?