Did adding Joanna Bolme on bass somehow ruin the “purity” of the Quasi sound? I would suggest not. Although it would be impossible to argue that their music was thin before, Bolme’s bass adds a perfect oomph without taking away from the chemistry of the duo that already existed. Bolme, like both Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, is a music veteran, playing with bands like Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, as well as working with Elliot Smith and producing what is probably Quasi’s most critically acclaimed album, Featuring “Birds.”
A big reason Quasi never sounded thin is drummer Janet Weiss, who is absolutely and completely underrated as one of the best drummers in the business. Perhaps her drumming is bit less bombastic and intricate with Quasi than when she was with Sleater-Kinney, but her calculated triplets and chunky bass drum thumps are scaled back just enough to work perfectly with the sweetness of Coomes’ voice, and she still turns on the heat when necessary. She makes me wish that she was in the White Stripes, instead of Meg White, because as much as I love the White Stripes, Meg White’s drumming is on the lean side. I think Weiss’ style would work perfectly with Jack White, and then they could commence to form The Greatest Rock Band That Ever Existed and take over the world.
American Gong basically continues with the Quasi sound of the last two decades, which is part Beatles, part country blues, and even part Flaming Lips. They’ve still got some of that country-blues-rockabilly on songs like “Rockabilly Party,” but are a tad more Sonic Youth and a smidge less Reverend Horton Heat overall on this album than on some of their others.
There can be no question that their music references other bands; I had to smile at the song “Black Dogs and Bubbles,” which has a lick that sounds quite a bit like the Beatles' jam session that is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” And just to make sure you didn’t miss the suggestion, it cuts off abruptly at the end just like the Beatles’ song does. It’s just reminiscent enough to be a happy homage rather than a cheap rip-off.
Quasi still writes songs that are sneakily catchy. I get “It’s Hard to Turn Me On” stuck in my head every time I listen to Featuring “Birds,” and I’ve had “Bye Bye Black Bird” and “Repulsion” repeating in my ears since the first time I listened to American Gong. Their classic rock and country riffs are perhaps less apparent on this album than on The Going Gets Dark or Hot Shit!, but Quasi is still there, writing happy-sounding songs with sadly psychedelic lyrics that still somehow manage to laissez les bon temps rouller.