It’s during the ballsy rock’n'roll bluster of Nostalgia Kills that Sam Coomes tells of a time “back at the Chinese restaurant, tryin’ to make some sense of it all.” And wherever heard, or regardless of whatever it may be that he’s referring to, at twenty-four tracks and however many minutes, it’s something of a monumental task tryin’ to make some sense of Quasi’s latest, Mole City. The band comprising onetime husband and wife duo Coomes, whose studio credits span from Built to Spill to Elliott Smith, and Janet Weiss, the drummer who once anchored legendary Portland, Oregon riot grrrl pioneers Sleater-Kinney and then went on to shove the rhythmic wind in the sails of Wild Flag, have certainly endured their ups, downs and uncertain in-between times. Mole City is their ninth full-length effort after all, and their first in three years that feel more like thirteen, such is the vivacity they together represent. And the dissolution of the duo’s marriage way back in ’95 – whether intentionally, or more likely inadvertently – has since had a significant bearing on their turbulent outpour, resulting in the erraticism this particular recording stands to represent.
You’ve the languid melodies of the Weiss-led R.I.P. that’s a little like Mew ethereally travelling Doves’ M62 Song; the tectonic sludgefest that is You Can Stay But You Gotta Go, during which Coomes sneers: “Now, everybody comes; everybody goes/ What’s it all about? No one really knows”, thus accenting the aforesaid sense of inconstancy in life and livelihood alike; or the woozy avant-pop slump of Chumps Of Chance, lurching keys reminiscent of Islands’ Return To The Sea or Kevin Barnes at his more cognitively attuned drunkenly regimenting slurs of broken clocks and abandoned ships. “Oh, you’re just another suicide/ Ain’t done nothin’ since the day you died” Sam croons quite elliptically, Weiss moaning in the background like a lovelorn widow perennially veiled in black and wailing from the window out to deadened sea, and although animating, there’s little on show to suggest even the slightest form of cohesion yet to come.
Of course, there’s no such luck, the lolloping toms and honky-tonk plonks of Fat Fanny Land, terse bursts of distortion to propel Nostalgia Kills hard and fast along a road to nowhere lined by the likes of Def Leppard, The Datsuns, etcetera, and disconcerting inertia of Headshrinker only enhancing this all-pervasive impression of heterogeneous incongruity. That lattermost instance might feature one of deplorably few glitzy drum fills, the record instead all too often frilled with Coomes’ lopsided keys, but even this rare occasion serves only to exacerbate their total contempt for coherence. You’ve meandering, punch-drunk blues renditions of Creep (Geraldine) set against extraneous interludes composed of little more than squalling amplifiers and squalid glitch inexplicably recorded in stereo (Loopy); muzzy noise-pop redolent of Dan Friel’s groggy musicscapes, were the onetime Parts & Labor (instru)mentalist plagued by the dallying spectre of George Harrison (Gnut) saddled up alongside quasi-epiphanic, Beach Boyish Pet Sounds (Dust of the Sun), and the result is as long and convoluted as this very sentence.
There are, however, only too ephemeral moments of redemption: consigned to “the left behind; the outta time”, An Ice Cube in the Sun proves a pretty lustrous listen combining rambunctious drums with (for once, rather literally) finely interwoven vocal harmonies and a limited humility that can only endear the duo to the likely increasingly nettled listener. Hillbilly skitter One & Done is the sole pithy skit of seven to justify its tracklisting inclusion, while the widescreen imagination of New Western Way ensures its impeccably blended loud/ quiet dynamic lives long in the memory.
Mole City is doubtless the sound of the now-totally platonic pairing having a time of it, although only irregularly does it feel as though we’ve been allowed in on the merrymaking. Blasted, during which Coomes effervesces lines of being “blasted; outta my nut” over surf guitar jollity, or the reptilian slink of Bedbug Town which, contrary to Sam’s speak-sung vernacular, is far from “the worst song that ever was sung” are exemplary, if all too isolated examples of the duo’s internal entertainment made communal. For unfortunately for the most part, Mole City seems to have a decidedly fixed population of a deplorably measly number. Two.
Released: September 30th, 2013 [Domino]