I don't know what it is about the top left corner of our country that moves its indie-rockers to cuten up their miseries into adorable little creatures (see: Death Cab, Built To Spill, Elliott Smith, and my favorite specimen, Quasi), but it's a trick that just keeps working. Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss have a long history as Quasi and an even longer history of their own. And though I'm not particularly interested in how their divorce went however long ago, the band's oft-neurotic braiding of beauty and beastliness has long been central to their appeal. (Well, that and Coomes's bottomless cup of sugary hooks.)
A good part of Quasi's 17-year career has been spent figuring out that they need a bassist more than their Rocksichord. For American Gong, they enlisted Weiss's erstwhile co-Jick, Joanna Bolme — and the effect is a reinvention. Her bass on "Little White Horse" (a song that channels the sparse, arch spirit of the late, great Regrets) is so charmingly dexterous and confident, it's like Theo Huxtable coming down the stairs.
"Repulsion" is as much fire-breathing dragon as huggable teddy bear; the stretched taffy of its chorus gives it a messy central streak of sweetness, even as its words mourn the pocking and softening of the aging male body. "Rockabilly Party" sounds like a valiant attempt at what it sounds like, but the end result forgives its own inaccuracies with raw bolts of crusty guitars, Sam and Janet (or is that Joanna?) locked in tense, Tennessee harmony and a classic rock edge that'll spill more than its share of Olympia. It's never been easy sticking with Quasi through all their quality-control ups and downs, but American Gong lets bygones be bygones, fitting their sharp wits and bruised hearts into a sound powerful enough to contain them. Bondage never looked so good.