Over the years the group's records have very gradually moved away from the fuzzed-out, squonky keyboard textures of their early albums on Up and their first Touch & Go disc, The Sword of God. Since their final T&G outing the band has added bassist Joanna Bolme -- who also plays with Weiss in Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks -- as a full-time member. Maybe it's coincidence, but adding a third member seems to have aimed them in an even more guitar-based direction for American Gong. Quasi has always rocked no matter what instrumentation Coomes is using, and there have always been guitar songs on their albums, but never this many -- or quite as hard-hitting. The more liberated, looser feel of the past couple albums is along for the ride, but with the focus and dark humor of albums such as Featuring "Birds" in full force.
The heart of the album is "Bye Bye Blackbird," with its combination of tricky melodies, beautiful harmony vocals and a total meltdown of a freakout in the middle. But really, nearly everything here has been stuck in my head since the album's release, from the hilarious/disturbing couplets of lead track "Repulsion" to the Drive-By Truckers-esque "Rockabilly Party" to the terrifying shriek Coomes emits at the end of "Death is Not the End." And if you have pets, be prepared for them to flip out at the end of the disc. Fair warning.
As a bonus, the digital download code included with the LP version appends a pair of bonus tracks from a digital-only EP featuring "Repulsion," including a take on The Who's "Heaven and Hell" that makes an appropriate bookend to the rest of the album.
Madison will be the second stop on the second leg of Quasi's tour in support of American Gong, hitting the Annex for a show. It'll be fun to see them give a Madison debut to their trio format. (Kill Rock Stars, 2010)