Looking back at the past couple of years, there are very few anomalies in the tendency towards objectively pristine sounding records. Glimmering production, cascading harmonies and orchestral arrangements seem almost compulsory, with gritty, dirty music surfacing occasionally, but rarely shaking us up enough to drag us back onto our feet. Whether Quasi have evaded this or are opposing it is irrelevant, all that is certain is that from the opening seconds of American Gong, the memories of those saccharine sounds are erased.
‘Repulsion’ chugs like a jet engine, it veers and moans like white noise with a vendetta. Sam Coomes’ usual modest, heartfelt murmurs deliver lyrics about sex and about whores, conveying both the meaning and vivid images of the track’s title. He rarely deviates from the warm familiarity of his voice, and Janet Weiss’ harmonies during the chorus – which seem a world away from the choral harmonies we are so accustomed to – acknowledge the classic idea of aesthetics but instead eerily slither over Coomes’ melody, which falls with the sleekness and unpredictability of a slinky making its way down stairs. All this set atop those growling guitars causes an uneasiness to the song, like watching a friend walking into the darkness with no means of shining a light.
Rest assured though, any demons in Coomes’ life are being observed rather than harboured. He sings, “So you’re ready to die / Oh, what’s the hurry? / You’re sure enough dead soon anyway / You don’t have to worry!” over arguably the greatest, bounciest, most joyful bassline Joanna Bolme has ever written (but how can we choose!?) on ‘Little White Horse’. Changing direction, he then addresses materialism, loneliness and faith on ‘Everything & Nothing at All’, and you can’t help but feel like Coomes is writing from a place of wisdom, that he somehow sees the bigger picture. Was it the band’s intention to juxtapose disgusting guitar tones and roaring, crashing drum beats against playful basslines and soaring, sweet melodies as a metaphor for some huge theory of life? Does it matter!? What is important is the feeling that this is something big, that when Coomes sings, “Rise up!” on ‘Now What’, he means it, and all that you have to do to comply is shake your head in time with the music.