After a decade-long hiatus, indie rock duo Quasi have returned with their latest album, Breaking the Balls of History (2023), which showcases the band’s combative and provocative attitude. The album features barbed and witty lyrics, with a specificity not seen in their previous work, that address topics such as the pandemic and the rise of fascism. However, the band’s defiance and determination are in conflict with the persistent limitations of their outlook.
Keyboardist Sam Coomes and drummer Janet Weiss founded Quasi in 1993 in Portland, Oregon, without a guitarist or bassist, which placed them slightly left of center in a time when grunge was at its peak. Weiss is known for her drumming with indie rock band Sleater-Kinney, while Coomes previously played with singer/songwriter Elliott Smith in Heatmiser. Coomes is the main songwriter and vocalist, with a thin tenor that avoids the typical blues or rock mannerisms.
In 2019, Weiss was in a car accident that left her with a broken collarbone and two broken legs. By the time she had fully recovered, the pandemic had begun, and she and Coomes adapted to the situation by jamming together every day, producing the band’s newest songs. After rehearsing the songs, they only needed five days to record the album.
The album’s opening track, “Last Long Laugh,” is one of the best songs, with Coomes singing over a single, sustained organ note and a slow pattern on the bass drum. The drums and a heavily distorted, one-note organ riff come crashing in after the verse, and the band plays with great force and energy throughout. Other tracks on the album, such as “Back in Your Tree” and “Riots & Jokes,” see the band taking a stand with Weiss’s powerful drumming and Coomes’s witty and insightful lyrics.
While some tracks on the album, like “Queen of Ears” and “Gravity,” provide a counterpoint to the more aggressive tracks, “Inbetweenness” is the weakest song. The lyrics do not make much of their subject, which is the unease and disorientation one might feel when facing an ambiguous situation, and the music and lyrics evoke this unease without seeming to understand it or even hinting at a way out. This song crystallizes the indecision and inability to commit that are classic traits of a certain social type.
The album’s title track, “Breaking the Balls of History,” provides the album’s climax, with Coomes belting out the lyrics with all his lungs and hitting higher notes than he has previously sung in modal voice. The song is a deeply felt, cathartic rejection of the crises rocking humanity, a statement that a line must be drawn, and a battle engaged.
In summary, Quasi’s Breaking the Balls of History is a strong return from a band that has been away for a long time. While some of the tracks show limitations in the band’s outlook, the album overall is a refreshing departure from the insular world of pop music, with lyrics that address the social reality of the pandemic era and a call to take a stand against the crises that are rocking humanity.