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When the Going Gets Dark

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Album Review

For their seventh album, Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes decided to forgo the bells and whistles and focus on what really makes Quasi Quasi: the two of them. To do this, they stick to their straightforward piano/guitar/drums combo (which doesn't mean, however, that this is a back-to-basics lo-fi record; there's still a lap steel and various layered keyboard synthesizers and sound effects — including bells and whistles — in there) and When the Going Gets Dark finds the duo very focused and musically solid, resulting in the seemingly incongruous combination of a clean, well-played album with a messy, muddy sound. Weiss is great on the drums, attacking rock beats head on and adding aggressive fills, and Coomes is a more than respectable guitar and keys player; his overdriven Fender is percussive and expressive, and his acoustic piano can change from almost sloppy chord-pounding to free jazz riffing. He takes some solos with both instruments, but they're short and polite, and don't take away from the energy and dynamism between him and Weiss. Coomes also cuts back on his vocals throughout the record, singing only a few short verses (or nothing at all, in the instrumental "Presto Chang-o") and a chorus or two, and while there are still politically charged songs (the rollicking "Death Culture Blues," for example, where he voices anger over the fact "We're told just to get in line/And bow down to the almighty dollar sign"), there's not the direct attack found on Hot S**t. Weiss, for the most part, stays behind the kit, though when she does sing harmony she sounds good, and complements the edgier songs with her softer voice. Yeah, sometimes Quasi get a little too carried away with themselves and the album seems a bit directionless, but that's only when they move away from the grit and into the prettier, synth-based tunes (like the very oh-right-Dave-Fridmann-produced-this-album "Beyond the Sky" and the closer, "Invisible Star," which has an unfortunate resemblance to something that should be at a high-school graduation). But when Quasi play like how they started out over ten years ago — two people, three instruments, and a lot of passion — they're grittier, bluesier, and tighter than ever, and they're absolutely fantastic.


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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