Judging from the giant smiles on the faces of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss in the photo that graces the back cover of the album, these two are the happiest people on earth. Look just a little beneath the surface, though, and youíll find something a lot darker.
Despite the duo's respective associations with numerous well-known bands, Quasi maintain their own unique and sometimes twisted musical vision. While their style favors upbeat melodic neo-oldies numbers played with dysfunctional keyboards and a Northwest twinge, their lyrics touch on the gloomiest regions of human sorrow, making for an intriguing diametric contrast. Either way, Quasi has called upon the great Sword of God to publicly exorcize their inner demons -- but thankfully, they've done so over catchy, well-written pop tunes.
After a quirky melodic intro track, "Fuck Hollywood" rolls in, its epic, cinematic keyboards warning you of the climaxes to come. Although this is one of the more adventurous songs on the disc, after the opening keyboards fade out, the music and Coomesí voice sound as much like Built to Spill as a guitar-less band could ever sound. A lot of British singers sound American when they sing, and thereís something about that Northwest singing style thatís similar (even Weiss does it), although I just can't put my finger on it. After this slow piano rocker jams out with the help of low bouncing synths, it segues into an odd climax: a free jazz blow-out, complete with squealing saxophone. "Itís Raining" gives us some great bouncy pop, driven by Coomesí overblown harpsichord synth, and "Genetic Science" picks up the pace even more, while the lyrics express Coomes' struggle with his own pessimism. The title track -- one of only a couple of songs to feature a guitar -- takes the energy level even higher; it's a total grunge rocker that completely dies out, then builds into an abstract climax. Weiss sings on two successful songs: the more upbeat, synth-heavy pop of "The Curse of Having it All" and the Little-Orphan-Annie-just-off-Prozac piano ballad "Nothing Nowhere". The remaining songs cover the usual territory: doubt, pessimism, dependency and so forth -- but whether itís clear or fuzzy, the message sinks in and the music never falters.
Having never listened to Quasi before this, I couldn't immediately appreciate their off-kilter style and sense of humor. However, the more I listen to The Sword of God, the more I appreciate Quasiís ability to create smoothly flowing, catchy songs without sacrificing their trademark complexity. My only problem with this album is that the whole package is just so drenched in irony: The outrageously grandiose title Sword of God, the Michael Jordan statue on the cover (and Coomes, also wearing a basketball jersey, with the number 32 to Jordanís 23), their huge smiles despite their obvious depressive views, and the ridiculous story by Coomes, ranting about some sick monkey or something. But all that stuff is secondary. What really matters is the music itself, and in that case, The Sword of God is definitely something to smile about -≠ even if you donít mean it.