Quasi: Featuring "Birds"

Featuring "Birds"

JANET WEISS HAS a commitment bordering on obsession: to smack every drum within reach until the neuroses of her bandmates sound like fun to the rest of us. Lending loose-limbed abandon to Sleater-Kinney's coiled tension, she taught Corin Tucker that "Words + Guitar" ain't the sum total of rock 'n' roll by a long shot. Presently, she's moonlighting with her ex-husband, a wry depressive named Sam Coomes who yokes his flattened chirp and sprightly hummables to a tragicomic view of life, love, and wage slavery.

Coomes has an ax to grind with his ex--an ax that happens to be a hot-wired electronic harpsichord that he kicks into overdrive until it sounds like he's in a genuine rocknroll band. He composes the soundtrack for a lonesome carousel, watching the wheels go round with determined frustration. But Weiss inevitably jams a drumstick into the gears and sends horses flying off in all directions.

And what does she get for her efforts? A starring role as the de facto "you" in the autobiography of a tuneful malcontent who reflexively blames his bad attitude on the nearest woman in plain view. Not to mention a new milestone in romantic solipsism titled "You Turn Me On." "And it's hard to turn me on," Sam sings, as if any gal should be thrilled that a curmudgeon who finds all the world weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable should deem her his sole source of amusement.

He's such a master of manipulation, though, that a sweetness shines through nonetheless. Coomes imagines a post-emotional future of "orbiting pods" and "underwater domes" and watches the California tourists he's been hired to placate become "evil specters of my own/Suburban upbringing"; his querulous dissatisfaction is sexier than it deserves to be. And because his self-absorption is so complete, his "you"s eventually register as "I"s, like he's singing into a mirror.

And so Coomes emerges as a likable ingrate a bit ashamed of how much pleasure he derives from his resolute pissed-offedness. "Hollow hopes and empty dreams," he sings. "That's all there is to life it seems/Unless you prove me wrong." Then, he pleads, "Please do." Throughout the album, Weiss answers his whine with a bemused "You're wrong" rendered in drumbeat Morse code. Every snare shot smiles as Coomes struggles unsuccessfully to tie the loose end of his noose to a strong-enough fixture.

"You think everything's a joke," he backhandedly compliments his helpmate, half amazed and half resentful. Who knows how their story played out in real life. But on my stereo, I can hear Janet Weiss having the last laugh.

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