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Music Review: American Gong by Quasi

After a four year layoff from their previous album, Quasi returns with a new bassist and a more studied sound.

By Robert Runyon January 19, 2010 Published in the February 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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GIVEN HOW OFTEN Sam Coomes and company have popped up throughout the city over the past six months, you might consider Quasi Portland’s own house band. One moment the group is grooming the next generation of music snobs at the You Who kids’ hootenanny; the next, it’s blowing away the grown-up hipsters as part of PICA’s Time-Based Art Festival. And that’s not counting a New Year’s party that had it playing nothing but Who covers.

All that gigging has done Quasi well. On American Gong, the band’s first album in four years, it sounds like the group has rediscovered its hunger for tight rock gems. Gone is the relentless urgency and shagginess of its previous effort, When the Going Gets Dark—that’s been replaced by a more studied sound that revels in the disconnect between lyrics and music that made the band great in the first place. It’s Quasi whittled down to its essence. Every song is tight and well-paced.

Another difference is the presence of new bassist Joanna Bolme. Where Coomes’s jangly guitar would dominate earlier albums, Bolme steals a song or two on Gong, weaving sinister bass lines into songs like “Death Is Not the End” and the Pixies-esque “Now What.” The sense of brewing conflict shows up in the mixing as well. Each element of almost every song—vocals, guitar, bass, and drums—shouts over the others to be heard. This doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does, creating a kind of riotous harmony.

Listening to the taut struggle that plays out on American Gong, you can’t help but hope that it won’t be another four years before the group puts out another record.

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