it's easy to imagine Quasi's evocative and dramatic creations speaking to a large number of people

Feature by Jay Shukla | 17 Mar 2006
One man stands alone on a stage; behind him his former spouse beats out a steady, simple rhythm. He opens his mouth and bitter, heartfelt words sail out into the crowd like some twisted nursery rhyme: "the bombs fall across the sea/ and everyday we get less free/ I yell and I scream/ wake up from the white devil's dream." No, this isn't Jack and Meg (thank fuck), this is Quasi; soulful agitators turned political instigators – and the best two-piece band you've never heard of.

Yes, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss used to be married, and Coomes likes nothing better than to spend his spare time reinterpreting blues standards (under his Blue Goblins moniker), but that's where the White Stripes comparisons begin and end. Colour-coordinated pants and penning songs for soft drinks companies simply aren't that high up on the Quasi agenda.

For the last thirteen years Quasi have ploughed their own fiercely independent furrow, despite the numerous detours that have been navigated by both Coomes and Weiss (he played with both Heatmiser and Elliot Smith, she has drummed with Sleater-Kinney for the last six years). 1998's 'Featuring "Birds"' is the album that crystallised the Quasi sound; pounding, organic rhythms coupled with Coomes' playful arrangements and artful manipulation of the Rocksichord (an electronic keyboard which approximates the sound of a harpsichord).

It is Quasi's lyrical content though, which is at the heart of what the band stands for. Rather than write songs about falling in love with girls and then moping around waiting for doorbells to ring, Coomes' lyrics are bitter and confrontational – acidic missives to an uncaring world that is quite clearly run by emotionally-stunted assholes. "They buy your labour and try to steal your soul/ bite the bullet, hold your tongue and play the happy prole" he sings. Elsewhere, song titles such as You Fucked Yourself and I Give Up betray Quasi's limited faith in the individual's capacity for self-improvement.

Happily, Quasi's disappointment in the modern world is only matched by their love for pounding drum grooves, classic pop melodies and thrillingly off-kilter orchestrations. Coomes may have a lot of hang-ups, but Quasi's musical evolution shows that the band are becoming evermore adept at sculpting the kind of crushingly moving pop music that (if there's any justice) will surely bring them to the attention of a wider audience.

Forthcoming album 'When the Going Gets Dark' proves the point in fine style, and contains some of the band's most stirring compositions to date, whilst showcasing their newfound capacity for conjuring up some sublime and expansive atmospheres. Album highlight Merry X-mas builds atop a ballsy bass line and some jazzy piano fills to a heartbreaking crescendo of anguished vocal harmonies and apocalyptically sad-sounding guitars. It's an amazing achievement, and in our current musical climate – in which bands such as Arcade Fire are enjoying sizeable success – it's easy to imagine Quasi's evocative and dramatic creations speaking to a large number of people.

"Resist, rise up. Wake up. Think. That's all I'm trying to do here," writes Coomes on Quasi's online homepage. Amen to that, brother.
When the Going Gets Dark' is released on March 20 through Domino.