Quasi: Hot Shit!

A few years ago, it would have been impossible to mistake a Quasi song for anyone else's. Singer and chief songwriter Sam Coomes played a Roxichord, an archaic electronic keyboard that emulates a harpsichord. Drummer Janet Weiss (Coomes' ex-wife) played drums. Both did a lot of pounding, in the process producing gloriously sunny pop with soul-crushing lyrics. But the world has changed since Quasi released its two late-'90s highlights Featuring "Birds" and Field Studies, and Coomes' songwriting has changed with it, as evidenced by the new Hot Shit! Clinton-era ennui has shifted into Bush-era rage, guitars compete with keyboards, and affection for the British Invasion has given way to a love of the blues. The devotion runs deep, as Coomes' Blues Goblins side project attests, but bringing the blues into Quasi risks redundancy. Coomes has always sounded like he has the blues, and Quasi's best moments have played off the tension between its downbeat sentiments and its upbeat music. Hot Shit! could use a few more standout moments, but it makes a good case for the approach. On "Master & Dog" and "White Devil's Dream," Coomes calls out politicians–sometimes by name, sometimes not–as Weiss bangs away in agreement. Righteous indignation muscles against rainy-day self-loathing, and much of Hot Shit! sounds like backward-leaning, forward-looking protest music. This being a Quasi album, there's no shortage of gloomy introspection, either: "Drunken Tears" and "Mama Tried" both squeeze soul-trying nights into compact songs. Elsewhere, Coomes and Weiss let their mixed emotions spin off into unexpected directions, whether turning songs into extended jams or sampling, then emulating, a gospel choir for "Good Times." Few of Hot Shit!'s tracks sound like one another, much less the Quasi of old, but this collection of troubled music for troubled times is still compelling.

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