QUASI: AMERICAN GONG

by Mike Schoeck

Out this week is “American Gong,” the sixth studio-effort from indie-pop patron saints, Quasi, and their first album for Kill Rock Stars. Formerly a duo, singer/keyboardist Sam Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss, the group is currently a trio with the addition of bassist Joanna Bolme (current bassist for Stephen Malkmus, ex-girlfriend of Elliott Smith). For the Portland, Ore. trio, it’s almost like they were the original pontifical Kill Rock Stars band, after the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill.

Artist: Quasi
Song: Repulsion


Weiss, originally drummer for now defunct Sleater-Kinney, has been quite active since the seminal “riot-grrl” punk trio split up four years ago, recording and touring with Malkmus and the Jicks, and Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes, among others.

“American Gong” finds Coomes and Weiss back at their late-90′s peak, circa the stellar “Sword of God” and “Featuring Birds.” The addition of Bolme since 2006 only solidifies the group in the annals of staple indie-pop bands.

“Bye Bye Blackbird” is about the closest tribute to the late Elliott Smith without having to cue the younger generation of Obersts. Incidentally enough, Smith covered Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” and frequently collaborated with Coomes and Bolme since his days with Heatmiser, so it’s a fitting tune with a Beatlesque refrain surrounded by a wall of dissonant feedback.

Weiss, well into her forties, still pounds out drum beats like a female John Bonham as she demonstrated at 30 when she joined Sleater-Kinney for the iconic “Dig Me Out.” I can’t think of any other female groups with a more consistent drummer.

Despite its name, “Rockabilly Party” draws a lot on the recent influx of alt-country bands, with a brash country-folk rock intro which nods to Neil Young’s first two grunge-laden albums with Crazy Horse. There’s quite a lot of Jim James in Coomes’ songwriting here, wailing “I don’t need no crystal ball to tell you how it’s gonna be.” Truly phenomenal for such stalwarts of the Portland indie rock scene.

Quasi plays the Bowery Ballroom on April 22.

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