Sam Coomes

Bugger Me

When talking about the lo-fi, indie-rock scene that arose around Portland in the first half of the Nineties, it’s impossible not to name Quasi. But Sam Coomes and Janet Weis were also among the main cast of characters in that sound-defining era, not only when playing as that notable duo, but also when it came to collaborations –– with Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith, and Built to Spill, to name but a few. Now, 23 years after starting his experience as half of Quasi, Sam Coomes is releasing the first album under his own name.

"If King Kong for you means Willis O’Brien rather than Dino De Laurentis or Peter Jackson, then you probably have an idea of what I’m driving at," Coome suggests by way of introduction to Bugger Me, highlighting from the outset his intentions for an album aimed to be, by the songwriter’s own admission, "entertainment music meant for those not served by more mainstream entertainment music". From this perspective, it isn’t surprising to know that Quasi’s sound is tagged by Coomes as "underground pop," always looking to put more distance between himself and the establishment.

It’s curious, then, to discover that two of Bugger Me’s main inspirations for were extremely famous and successful mainstream artists – two one-hit-wonders of their times: Chris Montez, who in 1962 reached the Billboard top 5 with ‘Let’s Dance’, and R&B champion Timmy Thomas, whose ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ is still influential 44 years after the release. With Thomas in particular, Coomes shares an approach to sound: The Miami artist’s song was the very first to be recorded just using an organ and its built-in beat box rhythm machine. Like his predecessor, still trying to fight the overproduction of the mainstream pop, Coomes stripped the nine tracks of his album down to a core made of his voice, some keyboards and "Conny" – a vintage, non-programmable rhythm box providing beats. (But just don’t expect the smooth mood of the hot Florida nights.)

And the result of this apparent simplicity far exceeds expectation: The pop-informed songwriting of Quasi oozes among creepy, distorted noises, feedback and hypnotising pulses in long, composite songs, at times made of two different parts – each with a title like ‘Crusin’ Thru/Just Like the Rest’ seeming to act as proof. An album of non-contradictory contradictions, opener ‘Stride On’ is a lo-fi gem that would be perfect played by a contemporary barrel organ grinder in the street, while the "Everybody Loves a War" section of the following track, ‘Fordana’, is a love song as spooky as it is moving, awash with spectral, fuzzed-up synths. ‘Shined It On/ Lobotomy Egg’ puts together a freaky ballad and a disquieting, instrumental sci-fi-horror movie soundtrack with classic baroque twists; the closing title track sends the listener straight to the battlefield of a classic war videogame where early electronic sounds reminiscent of Suicide are mixed with deep growls, like field recordings from a hostile, extra-terrestrial life – all psychedelic trips and nightmarish visions.

If Sam Coomes’ objective was to enter the entertainment system to destroy it from the inside, well, mission accomplished.

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