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Quasi - When the Going Gets Dark

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Artist: Quasi

Album: When the Going Gets Dark

Label: Touch and Go

Review date: Mar. 17, 2006


For the overwhelming majority of popular music, the focal point is on vocals and lyrics. Disparate instrumental musics can be approached in many different ways, with different people finding different points of focus. Add vocals, though, and suddenly nearly everybody will focus on them. Thus there is nothing which can polarize an audience more quickly than how a band approaches their vocals. There are tried-and-true vocalist stylings, sort of a lowest-common-denominator approach; and then there are those who have their own instinctual take on singing. Obviously, some of it's based on sheer talent: not everyone can sing like Sinatra or Brian Wilson. In some cases, though, it's just down to attitude and will.

In the polarizing, what-the-hell camp, file Quasi's nearly-one-man-band, Sam Coomes (the only other member is partner and drummer Janet Weiss). I know a number of people who claim that they'd like Quasi except for Coomes' singing. Objectively, he's all over the place, but gives it his all puts his heart into it, as the saying goes. It's a case of giving emotional expression precedence over technical precision. This isn't to say that he's constantly off-key or grating; that's not the case at all. But take the first few lines of "Peace and Love" as an example. Coomes' singing is warbly, almost shouted, and admittedly can be grating if you're not into it. But just let it go, don't sweat it, and you'll find that the music and voice all fit together.

When the Going Gets Dark rocks out a bit harder than Quasi's last album, and seems to concentrate more on guitar than on the previous piano-led songs. At times, it can be difficult to determine which is which: the very cool, suspenseful melody line of "Presto Change-o" is probably piano, but could be guitar. Over the always reliably strong and steady drums of Weiss, the song takes a simple, snakey melody and slowly buries it in layers of electronics.

These are heartfelt songs: when Coomes sings lines like "Peace and love ain't no shame / You never get what you need / in a world of fear & greed", some will no doubt shake their heads and mutter "hippies" under their breath, but that's just knee-jerk. What makes these songs work is their deft blend of the personal and the political. Coomes sings in "The Rhino": "There's somebody watching you everywhere / Except in your dreams, they can't see you in there. / At least not yet, though someday they will try / and on that day they'll see The Rhino can fly." There's no shortage of political commentary here, but most of the songs deal with it in a personal way, not as polemics.

Ultimately, it's not likely that those who've yet to be Quasi fans will be converted by this album, but it would nonetheless be worth their while to give it a listen. There's a great deal to like, from the rough and ready opening rock of "Alice the Goon" through the beautiful vocals by Weiss on the title track to the delicate keyboards, wistful vocals, and final fuzz guitar of closer "Invisible Star." While the previous Hot Shit was a very good album, this one's even better.

By Mason Jones

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American Gong

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