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The Dark Get Going

 

Quasi: When the Going Gets Dark

Touch & Go, 2006

Rating: 3.4

 

Posted: March 27, 2006

By Peter Landwehr

Janet Weiss is an excellent drummer. She is also notable for being in both indie-pop duo Quasi (with ex-husband and former Heatmiser Sam Coomes) and rock heroines Sleater-Kinney. This kind of intersection is sometimes meaningless, but it's significant given the direction that Quasi takes on its new album.

While hardly opting for the retro distortion that marked last year's standout Sleater-Kinney album, The Woods, Quasi shoots for a kind of raw, jamming purity on When the Going Gets Dark, turning to Dave Fridmann (producer of both The Woods and just about everything in The Flaming Lips' catalog) to add the finishing touches. The result is as pure a jazz-rock blend as Coomes and Weiss could desire, one that superbly highlights their chemistry; each track stomps heavily and smoothly, with Weiss' drums filling any and all gaps as Coomes wends his way around the studio on guitar, piano, and bass: the Fiery Furnaces/Jerry Lee Lewis piano insanity and ebullient singing of "The Rhino," the guitar solo at the core of "I Don't Know You Anymore" and the long, building jam of "Death Culture Blues" are all high points.

The difficulty of When the Going is that, on any album that strives for this kind of consistent flow, the artist treads the thin line between consistent emotional peak and being stuck in a musical rut. Quasi doesn't fall into the crevasse, but there are definite moments of scrabbling on its edge -- "Presto Change-O" ultimately becomes aimless, while "Beyond the Sky" slowly builds up synth noises for three minutes without providing any kind of payoff. Similarly, the album is marred with a few moments of marked lyrical impenetrability ("I'm Popeye the sailor man / I live in a garbage can" is the low point), but clever political jabs like "There's somebody watching you everywhere/Except in your dreams, they can't see you there" (in the vein of the more serious political onslaught of Quasi's last album, Hot Shit) provide a nice counterweight.

In the end, Coomes and Weiss put together a self-satisfied album that works best as a showcase for their collaborative prowess. It's not earthshaking, but it manages a small cocktail of politics, jazz, and well-produced indie-rock that you can refer to as "jams" without feeling embarrassed. One won't keep the volume at 10 all the time, but there are moments that call for it.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
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