Quasi - Featuring Birds - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Quasi - Featuring Birds

by Bob Coyne Rating: Release Date:1998-09-28

Quasi's Sam Coomes has been wrestling with the demons of his mortality since his stint in the San Francisco-based Donner Party, though in those days it played more like a ghoulish, adolescent fixation on death and decomposition. With Quasi, aided and abetted by the colossal drumming and sympathetic vocals of former spouse (and Sleater-Kinney skin-beater) Janet Weiss, Sam's ruminations have turned decidedly glum. Fortunately, he is also a savvy student of pop music and a lifelong lover of late-1960's intelligentsia music, particularly the Kinks and early Pink Floyd, so that even his darkest mutterings come baked in a tasty if somewhat flaky crust. Right off the bat, Sam sounds the alarm of complacency with some keyboard savagery in "Our Happiness Is Guaranteed", a piece of lobotomised optimism about burying your head in the sand in order to achieve peace of mind. "Life is dull / Life is grey / At its best it's just okay / But I'm happy to report / Life is also short," he acknowledges in the unaccountably zippy "California".

This might be too much nasty medicine if the music didn't engage us so consistently. This is easily Quasi's most accessible--even blatantly pop--album. Sam and Janet are utilising more instruments as well as recording tape than ever before, like the tumbling barrage of keyboards (including a harpsichord!) that open "I Never Want To See You Again". Sam turns in a fluid, George Harrison-like slide guitar solo on "The Happy Prole", while "Tomorrow You'll Hide" features a wonderfully bleak solo vocal turn from Janet. The transitions are incredibly subtle, like the eerie string passage that subverts the merry little "toot-toots" at the end of "It's Hard To Turn Me On". Sam and Janet's harmony vocals are a marvel; check out their wordless wail on "Sea Shanty", which manages to be frightened, mournful, and triumphant all at once. The intense intimacy suggested by both their tightly-wrapped vocals and their instrumental jousting is reminiscent of Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley; each seems to anticipate the other's next musical move. Though there's little chance that Quasi will crack the charts (A piano and drums duo? Too damned uncompromising for mass consumption), Featuring Birds is a stunning record. This one deserves some serious time in the spotlight and as much intelligent discussion as we can muster. --John Chandler

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