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Quasi adds a member and hits the rock with 'American Gong'



Quasi with Explode into Colors
9 p.m. Sunday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
$10 advance, $12 door
$12 advance, $14 door under 21

After seven albums, a group certainly has staked out the boundaries of its sound, so Quasi drummer Janet Weiss is a little confused by reviewers' complaints that the band's latest, "American Gong," doesn't "reinvent the wheel."

"We're old. We're just trying to make a good record that people enjoy listening to. Reinvent the wheel? I'm sorry, but young people need to reinvent the wheel," Weiss said. "It's funny that people expect that from you. I don't expect that. I just want to make a vital, vibrant record that sounds like real people are playing there. I would love to make some new wheel, but I like the old wheel quite a lot."

That's not to say changes aren't afoot for the act, which premiered with 1997's R&B "Transmogrification." Formed by Elliott Smith's ex-bandmate Sam Coomes and his ex-wife, Weiss, the duo makes noisy, punchy indie rock, like a cross between the Halo Benders and Built to Spill, fueled by canny lyrics and Weiss' frantic drumming.

In 2007, the pair added bassist Joanna Bolme to better assay 2006's "When the Going Gets Dark," and alleviate Coomes' reliance on their temperamental Roxichord keyboard for many of the songs.

"We kind of felt like to play live, we needed the bass there. We needed that low end and wanted to sort of explore where the songs would go if we had that live, and just to have a change," Weiss said.

When Quasi returned to the studio to record last month's "American Gong," the trio worked in a more collaborative style. Many songs were cut live; as a result, the entire 11-song album was recorded in just 10 days and boasts a commensurate vibrancy.

It's easily Quasi's hardest-rocking release. While the band certainly recorded its share of thundering, squalling guitar tracks struggling to escape earth's gravitational pull, there's never been an album that maintains that energy from beginning to end.

Guitar drives the proceedings, from the chaotic, fuzzed-out opener, "Repulsion," to "Now What," with its admonition to "rise up out of your past / Time is short, it can't last." Other tracks are even more forceful, like the six-minute extended freak-out of "Bye Bye Blackbird," and chunky "Little White Horse."

Interspersed throughout are little, two-and-a-half-minute moments to grab your breath, like the pretty, reverb-drenched paean, "The Jig Is Up," and the haunting "Death Is Not the End."

"It's kind of a guitar-heavy record, and we dug out some older guitar songs we hadn't played in a while, so that's been really fun. It seems more like a rock band now," Weiss said. "Sam was primarily a guitar player. Deep down, he wants to be in Black Sabbath."

Weiss began drumming many years ago, and by now has played with many artists, including Sleater-Kinney, Bright Eyes and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, but Coomes has still shaped her style more than anyone else, including other drummers.

"I often say he's my biggest influence because he wanted things a certain way. He never wanted perfection, he never wanted musical prowess," Weiss said. "He wanted it to be kind of heavy and frenetic. That's sort of what I turned into. Not that I can't do other things, but I hear things and see things through that lens now. That's why I enjoy doing other projects, because I get to look at things through someone else's eyes." "Chris Parker

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