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Field Studies

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Album Review

How she finds enough time to split her duties between Sleater-Kinney and her side projects will remain a mystery, but Janet Weiss, along with ex-Heatmiser alum Sam Coomes has managed to subtly assemble yet another worthwhile album. Titled Field Studies, it's Quasi's fourth full-length effort. Stemming from the Portland, OR scene that brought us Elliott Smith, it is not surprising that Field is marked with harmonies and whispered vocals not unlike those found on Smith's own records. In addition, Coomes has done duty as the rhythm guitarist in Smith's touring band, so again, no surprise that Smith plays bass on three of the album's tracks. While there are a few noisy, punk-out numbers to be found, Field is less aggressive but more tonal, dreamy, and much more carefully melodic than the band's previous records. At times, Quasi's extensive "aaahh" vocal harmonies shockingly smell like Phish, especially on the amusing "A Fable with No Moral," a song complete with tweaky guitar snaps and a piano lullaby outro. Weiss' trampoline drumming mixes with Coomes' sometimes buzzing, other times sliding, always twisting guitar lines in providing dual rhythmic textures, which allow the song to head in several directions while the vocals journey elsewhere, a style that is perfected by Built to Spill, a band that you consistently hear within the frame of Field Studies. It's that sort of distinguished structural conception that keeps the music fresh. On "Bon Voyage," reflective, near-dreary vocals counter bright, spirited tremolo guitar noodling, all of which is later underscored and uplifted by a church organ on which Weiss plays a spooky Halloween theme. Coomes is not the gifted singer his pal Smith is, but something about the slightly off-key and occasional atonal nature of his ringing vocals makes the songs elegantly honest, as if they literally come straight from the heart. Lyrics are image-specific, and draw your ear to the sights their words elicit. A few songs lack the intertwining rhythms that make Field Studies notably delightful, but they are the minority. Owing allegiance to the Flaming Lips and other sugary pop dissonance masters, Field Studies is a showcase of intelligent surprises and awkward beauty. [A 2001 Japanese version added a bonus track.]

Biography

Formed: 1993 in Portland, OR

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Portland, Oregon-based indie pop duo Quasi teamed singer/guitarist/keyboardist Sam Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss, who not only previously joined forces in the band Motorgoat but also married and divorced. After a 1993 split single with Bugskull, little was heard from Quasi until 1996, when the duo issued the Early Recordings collection. In 1997, Weiss joined Sleater-Kinney for their classic Dig Me Out album, but she also continued collaborating with Coomes, and that same year saw the release of...
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Field Studies, Quasi
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