Record Review: Quasi’s “American Gong”

Written by Mishka Shubaly on . Posted in Posts.


Quasi’s always been a singular band: a keys-and-drums
abusing divorced couple singing in joyous, angelic voices about the futility of
life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Its latest, American Gong, sounds less fraggy and unique as touring bassist
Joanna Bolme has joined the duo as a full-time member and, in a time-honored
rock’n’roll tradition, Sam Coomes has neglected his organs for an electric
guitar. But it’s not, thankfully, a lead guitar. Coomes hacks, chunks and
chops, his guitar bleats and wails but it rarely sings and it certainly doesn’t
trill. The recording is blown out and distorted like a cassette recording of a
hot AM radio signal. A song titled “Rockabilly Party” by any other band
wouldn’t make it off the CD onto my computer but here, it’s brilliant, a lick
that isn’t quite stolen from a Neil Young tune nourished into a sweet, bitter,
apocalyptic stomper. At its height, it sounds like the world is coming apart and
you’re like “finally.”

The lyrics? Emotionally, Sam Coomes is a set of Russian
dolls, happiness nestled inside of sadness inside happiness inside sadness and
so on, ad infinitum. Coomes may even rival the master, John Prine, for
delivering wrist-slitting lines while sounding as if he’s about to crack up.
His writing is subtler here than on his early records, hence less immediately impactful.
It’s true that “the receding tanlines of a teenage dream” isn’t quite as
harrowing as The Donner Party’s “first you take your shit and then you cram it
down your throat” but it may yield a greater multiplicity of meaning on
repeated listens.

When lots of folks are giving away music that’s not worth
the space it takes up on your hard drive—don’t tell me saving this baby otter
pounding malt liquor
as your desktop image isn’t a wiser investment of
bytes than the latest rcrd_lbl offering—American Gong is actually worth money. It’s a big fuzzy meatball of
good time downer jams, just a couple of kids singing happily about the end of
days.

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