Tag Archives: quasi

Album Review: Quasi – “Mole City”

Quasi - "Mole City"
Quasi – “Mole City”

Anyone that has been paying attention to this blog for the past couple of months already knows that I have been eagerly waiting for this album to come out.

Well, tomorrow is the day that Kill Rock Stars will officially release Quasi’s 9th studio album. “Mole City” is not only the band’s 9th studio album, but also an album released on their 20th year as a band.

The album is stacked, for starters. Not including the bonus EP of cover songs that comes along with the album there are 24 tracks spanning over an hour of music. Right out of the gate after the brief initial organ solo opening of “*,” the track “You Can Stay But You Gotta Go” begins with a low rumble and charges through with ultra-fuzzed, guitar that (I think) has been run through a whammy pedal, or something similar, to send the pitch down an octave. I mean, it could be a bass guitar, but there are times when the line goes above the range of the bass…of course I could be wrong.

Anyway, that’s not the point. I’m getting off track here. The album amps up Quasi’s early rock influence with several tracks built upon a bar-room piano riff foundation overtop of which squealing, howling guitar noise is placed. This is exactly the structure of “Fat Fanny Land,” with the added shuffling backbeat laid down by Weiss. It’s built on a standard 12-bar blues form, with Coomes’ vocals and rhodes piano adding a nice dose of grit to the mix. And there’s even more blues piano on “Headshrinker,” which presents an interesting case. The song builds so slowly, taking the majority of its 4-plus minutes to get to it’s wildest. And what is done during that slow, steady build is even more interesting (to me at least) in that this build consists entirely of one chord. When the Brian May type doubled guitar sol enters toward the end of the song it’s a real breath of fresh air. That solo is also the only part of the song that really moves away from the primary chord.

That’s quite a feat. It’s a challenging thing to create a song on a single premise without straying from that idea or adding to it while at the same time holding interest, avoiding monotony. Coomes and Weiss, however, manage this with relative ease.

There are some other blues based rockers, such as “Nostalgia Kills,” a song that also benefits from the slap-back echo on the vocals. “Nostalgia Kills” would be right at home on classic rock radio, with a guitar riff that sounds like something straight out of Molly Hatchet, or Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Another country/blues guitar jam, “Bedbug Town,” features   the spot on harmonies of Janet. Their voices work so perfectly together, and Weiss’ harmonies are always spot on. Speaking of Weiss’ voice, she has the chance to take center stage, singing the lone vocal on track “R.I.P,” with only a country style finger picked steel string guitar. Later in the album the track “One and Done” matches the sound of “R.I.P” with its quick guitar work in a similar finger-picked style, though this time considerably brighter with the addition of the slide guitar doubling.

Because of their inclusion of the honky-tonk style piano and ultra fuzzed out guitars or the distorted Rhodes, those songs often sound like they are coming out of a saloon in the wild west on acid. Though, lyrically, the songs are often dark and/or heartbreaking. That darkness is often hidden behind bouncy piano lines and early blues rock guitar hooks. In “The Goat” Coomes sings, “where’s the crime in tryin’ to get you to love me again?…I’ll be the goat if it makes it any better,” obscured in exactly this way. There are moments, such as in “Geraldine,” where the darkness is let to sound loud and clear.

Short bursts of noise such as “*,” “Chrome Duck,” and the sound collage of “Mole City” break the album up nicely, serving to create convenient divisions in the album that serve as waypoints guiding the listener through the album.

Finally, the addition of the covers EP (available to those that pre-ordered “Mole City”) makes total sense in creating the connections between the Quasi sound with bands like Queen and Black Sabbath, as well as Marvin Gaye and Nick Lowe. Come to think of it though, after listening to the dark lyrics of the preceding album Queen’s lyrics “don’t stop me now, I’m havin’ a good time, havin’ a good time” can’t help themselves but sound a bit ironic. But anyway, if you haven’t heard their cover of “Heaven and Hell” that appeared as a bonus track on 2010’s “American Gong,” then do yourself a favor and check that one out. Janet’s ability to replicate Keith Moon’s style couldn’t be closer to perfection.

Mole City is out October 1st (ie tomrrow) on Kill Rock Stars and can be found at your local independent record store or at the link below. The album is available on vinyl (coke-bottle clear while supplies last, otherwise black) CD or as a digital download.

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The band will tour across the US, Canada and Europe beginning October 3rd. Click the “Kill Rock Stars” link above for dates.

Album that you need to hear: Pink Mountain – “Untitled”

Pink Mountain - "Untitled"
Pink Mountain – “Untitled”

Released April 28, 2009 Pink Mountain’s “Untitled” 2nd album represents an intriguing and, in my opinion, inviting blend of contemporary composition and improvisation techniques within the rock idiom. Despite its unique qualities the album remains woefully unknown and underrated, unappreciated and overall unlistened to since its release. To that end, when it was released only 500 copies of the vinyl were produced, and it remains available from Sick Room Records as of this writing.

I first learned of this album through Signal To Noise magazine, which is a phenomenal publication for any of those that may be interested in experimental and otherwise unknown music. That magazine has dubbed itself “The biannual journal of improvised, experimental and unusual music” and as far as I know it is the best of its kind. Though subscription service is currently suspended I truly hope that they begin publishing regularly again. Times are tough in the publishing industry, and I’m sure that publishing a magazine with such a specific target audience is even tougher.

It was in issue #55 for Fall 2009, to be specific, that I came to learn of the existence of Pink Mountain in a piece entitled “They’re Only in it for the Music.” Both that title as well as the subheading that states that they have “zero hope for mass appeal” summoning the specter of Frank Zappa. Though their music is a similar mix of art-rock there are many notable differences. For starters, where Zappa was influenced by and mimicked (to death) the compositional styles of Stravinsky and Varese, Pink Mountain are a bit more current with their influences. They work with contemporary, American influences; influences that don’t sound like they originate in the downtown scene of New York, but rather lie with the improv techniques of the West Coast, specifically the experimentalism and improvisatory techniques that come out of Mills College in Oakland. The album explores heavy use of noise and free form improv over layers of tight foundational work that cycles regularly in shifting tectonic plates of polymeter and minimalist repetition.

I remember playing this album for a friend that’s pretty into “out” jazz, and he remarked nearly immediately that he couldn’t handle it. He said that it was “a bit too far for me…I don’t know if I can get into this.” Perhaps it was the distortion, or the way that the album opens with near chaos that continues to build, that got him, or rather didn’t get him.

There are tracks that are more to one side of the experimental-rock rift and those that swing far to the other side. And, as expected, there are those moments that manage to bridge that gap.

“Foreign Rising” is a clever renaming of the James Tenney piece “For Anne (rising)” that makes use of a Shepard Tone, which is an aural illusion that sounds like a continual ascent that could potentially go on forever. Think of it like the sound equivalent of one of those barbershop poles where the stripe seems to continue to rise out of the bottom for as long as you look at it. Of course this is a re-imagining of the original electronic piece by Tenney that is a lot more stripped down than. Pink Mountain adds a bit of an accelerando, jazz drumming that grows continually more complex as the piece continues and some other ringing harmonics, and various other buzzing or otherwise distorted sounds (and vocals) over top.

Foreign Rising

“Fine Print” screeches and squeals over a rock-solid drumbeat with woodwinds that ties the end of the album to the beginning , making the cloud of atmospheric noise a contorting leitmotif of the work as a whole. The lyrics of “Fine Print” are concerned with the inner non-workings of the music industry, which are then combined with instrumentation and composition practices that eschew most of the principles of rock music writing. The breakdown in the song features the a ragged bass sound with drums that are locked into a constantly shifting 7/8 that is in some respects rock steady, while simultaneously it is anything but.

It’s a diatribe against the commercial music industry in every way possible. Basically, the entire album is, but it doesn’t make a point of addressing it overtly until this song. In a way it is like the band is saying, “yes, we are aware of the limited potential for recognition with this album, and this is how much we don’t care.” The song aligns them philosophically with Steve Albini’s famous tirade (that I reference every chance that I get).

Speaking more to the polyrhythmic structure that is present throughout most of the songs, “Howling Fantods” (an “Infinite Jest” reference no doubt. It matches nicely with the Pynchon nod in the title of their song “V.,” a creepy instrumental with what sounds like bowed cymbals (?) and tense, brittle harmonics. And their music matches that post-modern mindset, sudden shifts of texture, several layers of action, the re-working of concepts [re-packaging, if you will] and the steady, fluid mixture of high-art with low in that rock and jazz influences are thrown in a blender with well thought out contemporary classical compositional techniques [prepared piano, Shepard Tone, different levels of metric borrowing/time streams a la Elliott Carter, and the list goes on) marches dutifully into the prog realm with its additive rhythm that appends an increasing number of strong beats to the end of a 7/8 measure, stretching out the phrases before once again collapsing into a controlled chaos. The moments that don’t feature that persistent additive rhythm stretch time in their own way by at first dropping any sense of beat altogether, while hinting at the motive melodically, and later slowing time in a complex metric modulation.

Howling Fantods

The most obvious and aurally shocking element that Pink Mountain puts to work is the mind-warp pulse shifts of “Eternal Halflife” and its reprise “Eternal Shelflife” where a steady 4/4 meter with the usual (for rock tunes) strong accents on 2 and 4 starts off unsurprisingly with a clear texture of understated drums with a seemingly half-hearted guitar that sits on one chord, non-chalantly strumming eighth notes. After two measures, easily enough time  such that one’s mind settles into passive acceptance, the guitar shifts upwards while the drums subdivide each half-note into 5, giving the impression of a tempo increase, but that is only another illusion (they seem to be making a theme of aural illusions on this album what with the Shepard Tone that I have mentioned a few other times and now this jarring metric shift that feels like a tempo shift but it isn’t. I would classify this as maybe a form of different simultaneous tempo streams), as the snare drum continues to accent beats 2 and 4. The pattern is then repeated but with each bar divided into 3 this time, seemingly slowing the piece. It would be an understatement to say that this is simply an interesting phenomenon to experience. The first time that I heard it I came to the realization that I had never experienced anything like that in music before. And that is quite a rare circumstance indeed when you can actually experience something in music that you have never heard before.

Eternal Halflife

The main meter shifting section of “Eternal Halflife” where beats 2 and 4 are accented and the upper voice borrows from other meters. (notes are only to indicate rhythm. Quarter notes are kick drum and snare while eighth notes represent the hi-hat)

The band does play with tempo and rhythm across the entire album, so much so that there is no point of reference for what “normal” might mean. Even in moments where there isn’t anything particularly interesting (that’s, of course, a relative term) happening, say for example in certain parts of “Thee Red Lion.” The texture in that track is sparse for the most part, but the band takes the opportunity to really lean back in the bar. They are pushing that meter back and making those bars last as long as they can without changing the number of beats in a measure and also without changing the tempo. To my ear this element of their playing makes that track sound even heavier that it would be if it was played square.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons that I am so attracted to this album. One of the reasons that I continually go back to it. Funny tidbit: Sam Coomes, the singer here, is also in the (comparatively much more well known) band Quasi (another band that I have talked about ad nauseum on this blog) with Janet Weiss. Janet was the drummer for Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, and now Wild Flag (in addition to Quasi). The point is that I have known of all of those bands, except for Quasi, which I only came to know after becoming very familiar with Pink Mountain. I tend to do things backward sometimes.

The mixture of stylistic approach on this album reaches far beyond the classification of rock or jazz or classical. It combines elements of all of those things in a fairly tight package. There isn’t one song that showcases a single one of those elements, as they are all mixed evenly throughout. As I have mentioned before on this blog, one of my goals in writing and in studying music is to show that the categories and the classifications that we heap onto music are, for the most part, meaningless. The intermingling of elements is an important part of the post-modern aesthetic, and is showcased on many albums of the past ten years. Pink Mountain’s “Untitled” is one such album that not only defies classification, but seemingly obliterates it.

Stream/Download: Quasi – “See You On Mars”

If you couldn’t tell from my earlier post, I am excited about the new Quasi album. I always get excited when I first get into a band and they decide to release an album – let alone a double album – not long after. That they have been together for 20 years now is something that blows my mind. I guess that I’ve been missing out for some time.

Now that we have two songs we can start to get at least a little bit of an idea of how this album is going to come together. Maybe that’s a long-shot, as there is a 24 song track list. But “See You on Mars” (track 2 on the player above) at least gives us an idea of the diversity of the album. It starts off as a bit of a straight ahead, bass-thumping pop-tune (ok, when I said “straight ahead” I was lying, it’s in 7/4, more specifically in alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4, but straight ahead within that framework. Ok, hey, the point is that every beat in the measure is accented) before breaking off into a bar-room rock tune that reminds me more than a little bit of a tune that could be on Sloan’s “One Chord to Another” or “Between the Bridges.” Of course the ending features a bass guitar glissando that slides up to #4 (sharp 4, not number 4) and never resolves to 5, which is going to drive me crazy every time I hear the song. If the next track doesn’t start with a C# somewhere in the opening chord I might just loose my mind.

“Mole City” is out on Kill Rock Stars on October 1st. Pre-orders for the limited edition vinyl are still available and a lot of the other packages are up for grabs too. You can also download this track as well as “You Can Stay But You Gotta Go” from the band’s bandcamp page. Check out the links below.

You should also know that the entire 20 year output of Quasi is available for streaming on spotify, and of course I would suggest checking it out. “Hot Shit” and “When The Going Gets Dark” are also among my most listened to of their albums. Sloan’s entire discography can be found there as well.

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Quasi on tour:
October 3 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
October 4 – Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar
October 5 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
October 7 – Birmingham, AL @ The Bottletree
October 8 – Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
October 9 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
October 10 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
October 11 – New Haven, CT @ Cafe Nine
October 12 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot And Saddle
October 13 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
October 14 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
October 16 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
October 17 – Buffalo, NY @ Tralf Music Hall
October 18 – Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop
October 19 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas
October 20 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
November 3 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux
November 4 – Salt Lake City, UT @Kilby Court
November 5 – Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
November 7 – Denton, TX @ Dan’s Silverleaf
November 8-10 – Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
November 11 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room
November 12 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
November 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
November 14 – Santa Barbara, CA @ Soho Restaurant and Music Club
November 15 – San Jose, CA @ The Blank Club
November 16 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
November 21 – Vancouver, BC @ The Biltmore Caberet
November 22 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
November 23 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge

New Release: Quasi – “Mole City”

Quasi is Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes
Quasi is Janet Weiss and Sam Coomes

Portland duo Quasi has announced a follow up to 2010’s fantastic “American Gong.” The new 24 track double-LP called “Mole City” on Kill Rock Stars is currently available for pre-order in a variety of formats from standard CD and vinyl to packages that include t-shirt, zine, Quasi recording an outgoing voicemail message for you and other goodies. Also included with pre-order is a bonus CD-R “Covers” EP featuring Quasi versions of “Dont’ Stop Me Now” (Queen), “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye), and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love & Understanding” (Elvis Costello and the Attractions). “Mole City” is set for official release on October 1.

If you are not familiar with Quasi, first of all don’t think of it as “Janet Weiss’ other band,” because this is a whole different animal (not to mention that this year marks the bands 20th year together). Quasi rocks a little harder, with lyrical content that remains, for the most part, rather dark. Always hook-laden melodies with great instrumental work and plenty of noise and feedback.

Check out the dizzying video for the ultra-distorted and heavy track “You Can Stay but You Gotta Go” off of “Mole City.” If this song is a sign of what’s to come on the album then expect to find more heaviness and noise. Sounds good to me. Video posted below and also check the tour dates and catch them when they come to your town.

And if you so desire, check out their website (but it is truly terrible).

And check out “American Gong” in full below:



10/3 Slowdown, Omaha NE
10/4 Record Bar, Kansas City MO
10/5 Off Broadway, St. Louis MO
10/7 Bottletree, Birmingham AL
10/8 Drunken Unicorn, Atlanta GA
10/9 Local 506, Chapel Hill NC
10/10 Black Cat, Washington DC
10/11 Café Nine, New Haven CT
10/12 Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia PA
10/13 Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY
10/14 Mercury Lounge, New York NY
10/16 Great Scott, Allston MA
10/17 Tralf Music Hall, Buffalo NY
10/18 Grog Shop, Cleveland OH
10/19 Schubas Tavern, Chicago IL
10/20 7th St. Entry, Minneapolis MN
11/3 Neurolux, Boise ID
11/4 Kilby Court, Salt Lake City UT
11/5 Hi-Dive, Denver CO
11/7 Dan’s Silver LeaF, Denton TX
11/10 Fun Fun Fun Fest, Auditorium Shores, Austin TX
11/11 Rhythm Room, Phoenix AZ
11/12 Casbah, San Diego CA
11/13 Echo Lounge, Los Angeles CA
11/14 SOhO, Santa Barbara, CA
11/15 Blank Club, San Jose CA
11/16 Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco CA
11/21 Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC
11/22 Tractor Tavern, Seattle WA
11/23 Doug Fir, Portland OR
12/5 The Fleece, Bristol UK
12/6 Brudenell Social Club, Leeds UK
12/7 Broadcast, Glasgow UK
12/8 Deaf Institute, Manchester UK
12/9 Hare & Hounds, Birmingham UK
12/10 Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester UK
12/11 Shepherds Bush Empire, London UK
12/12 Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich UK
12/13 Cargo, London UK
12/14 The Haunt, Brighton UK