Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Matt Oliver
It's the themes of inadequacy that get me every time. They at least give you the kind of pause that forces you to revisit those that you've stored up or repressed from years past. Even as a grown ass, those awkward feelings that would toss you into the throes of self-doubt and hopeless loser-dom are never too far from the surface. They've just been swept under the rug, but we feel the lumps and their crunchiness every time we tread over them. Only a very few people have had the sheer luck to have never felt such strong bouts of being lost in a great big sea, choking on the filthiness and thickness of the struggle and the climb, the clamoring over all others just to achieve or been recognized as something more than another pimple with a couple thumbs. Sam Coomes, the lead singer and songwriter of the Portland outfit Quasi, has a head of hair that's plenty peppered with grays and as such, the belief is that he has been through many ringers, through those testy bouts of doubt and much of what he tends to write about and has been writing about for years and years - since the group began way back in 1993 - is ripe with these lingering stupors. It's the boy inside the man and the man within the man still expressing the raging waters and the overwhelming fears of failure or never quite stacking up. It's the fear that you're doing something wrong and everyone else is not, or they're achieving well beyond your means, thereby relegating you to secondary status. It's the classic tale of the outsider who, no matter what might happen to him, never sees the world as anything that would ever selflessly give itself over to parity. It's crueler than we're giving it credit for, if we'd just look around a little bit and dig inside for more of those raw nerves that just get covered up as if they were soft, penetrable graves. Coomes sings, "I used to be mad, not crazy, nah, just mad/But not anymore/The receding taillights of a teenage dream," and it seems that there might not be a better epitaph for the stone that will weigh his body down someday. It's a few lines that allow us a look at the many different stages of thought that he's ever been through. It holds within it the youth (foolish or not), the epiphany that obviously had to have happened and then the present, while still rounding those silly youthful times back into the conversation before the music just fades out. Quasi, which consists of Coomes' ex-wife and former Sleater-Kinney, current Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks drummer Janet Weiss and Jicks bassist Joanna Bolme, kicks out the kinds of jams that have that extra pinch to them. They buzz and hum a bit more. They're tested and tried, as Coomes is a technician when it comes to his lyrics, effectively getting to the memorable phrases so much more often and impressively. He sings about the feelings of inadequacy by mentioning that it's "just a piss in the ocean" and it's just a grain of sand, but then follows the idea with the small conclusion that it might just be enough, but that's the slight warrior inside the pessimist, trying to play the devil's advocate. That's the thought that gets drowned out the most, for it's rooted only in theory, not in actuality, and that can be tiresome. It can also be very enlightening and lovely.