As Quasi, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss have spent a decade forging psychedelic-tinged indie-rock gems from their socio-political rage and the embers of their once-married/now-divorced relationship. The sixth full-length from the Portland, OR-based duo continues the dark narrative tradition, while harnessing the heat of their live gigs to the studio mix -- ably handled by Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips). And they don't waste time about it, either; When the Going Gets Dark (Touch & Go) exits the starting gate like a nitro-fueled funny car.
On disc opener "Alice the Goon," Weiss pounds the drums like she's smashing atoms, and Coomes bangs on the guitar and keyboards in a dissonant frenzy until a shimmering melody emerges. It's Quasi in a nutshell: stylistic shape-shifters who learned the rules, then burned the blueprints and created a glorious, transcendent mess in the process. Songs that begin as epic Zeppelin wind up in post-rock freak outs ("Rhino"), and sunny pop melodies emerge phoenix-like from grungy maelstroms ("When the Going Gets Dark"). "Death Culture Blues" mixes swamp stomp with keyboard sleight-of-hand for two minutes before taking off in a Skynyrd-meets-Nirvana guitar jam. The joyous rock anthem "Peace and Love" glides seamlessly into gentle Eno-like synth washes on "Beyond the Sky," which then crumbles into sinister space noise. "Poverty Sucks" combines an Eastern raga feel with Transmissions-era Flaming Lips guitar heroics, and "Merry X-Mas" bounds between jazzy Mingus, post-modern Christmas carol and "She's So Heavy" Beatles. While Weiss works the skins in the exuberant Bonham-meets-Moon fury she's known for in Sleater-Kinney, Coomes' deft handiwork on a variety of keys, synths and guitars is equally adept at breaking your heart or eardrums. Taken as a whole, When the Going Gets Dark might not exhibit as much piss and vinegar as The Sword of God, or drip political venom like Hot Shit. And as for relationship disillusionment, it doesn't hold a candle to Featuring "Birds." But as a combination of Quasi's work, this disc feels like a crowning achievement, and the heat it generates is why we fell in love with rock & roll in the first place.