Quasi When the Going Gets Dark

[Touch and Go; 2006]

Styles: indie rock, indie pop
Others: Built to Spill, Home, Grandaddy

If we are to trace back the history of husband/wife musical duos, Quasi function as a significant moment. Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss came later than many seminal acts, like Ike and Tina or Captain and Tenille, but they also arrived ahead of the curve of such acts in the indie scene, like Mates of State or The White Stripes(?). With over ten years of playing together, numerous side projects (including Sleater-Kinney for Weiss), and the very dissolution of their marriage, Quasi have proven themselves able to endure, while constantly eking up the stakes with each new release.

Their stripped-down, yet frenetic approach to pop songcraft shines through on When the Going Gets Dark. Not as political as their last effort, Hot Shit, the new album shifts attention to the instrumental side of Quasi, with "Presto Change-o" perfectly distilling their insistent and sinister balance of sound. In fact, that song is positioned in the stellar middle section, together with "Peace and Love" and "Beyond the Sky" -- songs that nicely utilize the gauzy psych-inclined mixing talents of Dave Fridmann. "Beyond the Sky" especially stands out as a great experimental moment for the band, soaked with mellotron and plenty of other less identifiable elements. It's a much headier piece than I'd come to expect from Quasi.

The opening and closing exist well enough, but there's something about Coomes's words that can instantly cause me to cringe. The very first line of the first track "Alice the Goon," "Electric eel - swimming through the seas of the unreal," is a perfect example of this. I feel like maybe I've caught an indie band in their Romper Room covers phase, a feeling intensified when he ends the song with "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man/ I live in a garbage can." The music may be taut and purposeful, but the lyrics distance me. That's why When the Going Gets Dark works the best of any Quasi album for me. With more focus on the adventurous composition and skilled playing of Coomes and Weiss, it would be hard for anyone, including myself, to dismiss this as anything other than impressive. Now, if they just hire a new lyricist for their next one...

1. Alice the Goon
2. The Rhino
3. When the Going Gets Dark
4. I Don't Know You Anymore
5. Peace and Love
6. Beyond the Sky
7. Presto Change-o
8. Poverty Sucks
9. Merry X-mas
10. Death Culture Blues
11. Invisible Star