For Quasi, life goes on, long after the thrill of being stupid and young is gone 

Gong With the Wind

Gong With the Wind

Few bands stick around as long as Quasi have — which is probably for the best in most cases — but the Portland trio's longevity is a gift. Their latest, American Gong (Kill Rock Stars) is the work of an invigorated band, which only shows their age insomuch as it's competent and dexterous, and removed from trend. Quasi have always been a party band steeped in existential malaise, and the new album gives up heavy doses of both.

The album is heavy on the "American" and light on the "Gong." Or maybe the "Gong" is there in the form of a wake-up, a crashing announcement — if we are counting that, then yes, moderate "Gong"-ing. Quasi are a speak-your-mind band, which these days (being indie rock's resistance-to-meaning golden age) counts as political. To borrow from the feminists of yore, the personal is political — and for Quasi, the political is personal. The recession's done made it such even for folks that don't believe. Frontman/guitarist Sam Coomes has a tender, bittersweet kind of croon that makes him sound younger than he is — there is a puerile squeak to his voice that belies some kind of hope. You know he's not a kid because his lyrics show he's forgotten more than most young dudes have seen. "Everything and Nothing at All" is a song of resistance, punk/parental admonishment: "If some broken scheme rips a hole in your dream / Don't let them get you down." In a time where banker-borne schemes (there is no better word for what it was, is there?) rearrange the shape and scopes of our lives and how to live them, it's a tuneful bit of buck-up.

American Gong is a bit of a grown people's album. Mature indie rock, yes, as far as Coomes has his eyes wide open — he's not flinching. The album's single "Little White Horse" is a modern punk-with-a-mortgage blues, of sorts. Coomes makes it sounds like if you can get away with adulthood on your own terms, then that's the big win: "If it's not too loud, then you're not too old."

"Little White Horse" is post-punk guitar fury, faxed direct from an early-'90s college radio heyday, with bassist Joanna Bolme putting the power into their trio. (Bolme, also of The Jicks, has been a touring member for a few years, and this is her first record with the previously two-piece band.) Coomes dips further back, reaching beyond Portland's overcast mope into the South, and gives up some Southern-fried dirt-rock wailing ("Rockabilly Party") that falls shy of Skynyrdian heights — but hell, the dude grew up punk, so the fact that he's playing anything more than two-note solos is saying something.

They have recaptured some sort of vigor in the addition of Bolme; Quasi made a couple few records in the middle there that were long on the bummer and sometimes endless riffage, with Coomes pounding out epically morose ditties on his overdriven Rocksichord electric piano. Sad songs can say so much, but as punchy a drummer as Janet Weiss is, that's a grim lot to keep afloat.

"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez," the album's piano-ballad denouement, is slow and dreary, the irony obvious — the good times done rolled, and are far past. A lament born of age. "It don't matter who you are / We're all children of the selfsame star / All adrift on the selfsame boat / All gonna drown if this thing can't float." Wizened humanism retooled for the disaster-prone modern era. Three minutes in, the organ sustains and trills, a melancholy wash, while Coomes does his best Madman Across the Water-era Elton. In a spoken outro, he weighs his sanguine heart against his fatalist head: "Aww, I used to be mad, not crazy, just mad / Not anymore / The receding taillights of a teenage dream" — Bolme and Weiss' harmonizing aaahhhs behind him, sounding like bummer angels. There is some self-mocking in his tone, with Coomes taking on his rep as a bearer of woeful pop. There is a knowing wink, too, in the song's drama and grandiosity — it's Wings' "Live and Let Die" recast as simply "Let Die."

But Coomes' tone isn't one of wistful nostalgia. He's moved past the regret, into the adult acceptance — he's free of the madness, the kiddo chaos of dumb youth. It's spent; whether it was misspent doesn't matter anymore.



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