Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss have now been recording as Quasi for 20 years and nine albums, outlasting nearly all of their contemporaries, which is astonishing for a band whose main lyrical themes are indignation and self-laceration. They’re still enormously creatively fertile as a duo (a format they’ve returned to after a few years with bassist Joanna Bolme) — Mole City is spilling over with crisp, witty rock songs, punctuated by bonus noise doodles. Weiss is a pile-driving drummer most of the time (she tones it down when the songs call for it, but it’s really fun when she cuts loose), and Coomes favors super-fuzzed-out instrumental sounds and massive riffs to set off his weedy smart-alec voice. And they’re as locked into each other’s sense of rhythm as any two musicians can be: Either “Blasted” deliberately includes an incredibly weird metrical shift or both of them impulsively threw in an extra half-beat at the same moment.
Quasi’s performance aesthetic is punk rock all the way, but one weird and wonderful thing about them is that their songwriting is totally grounded in the pre-punk era (the ending of “See You on Mars” is boater-and-cane music-hall, and the singalong tune of “Bedbug Town” could have appeared on an old Kinks record). Mole City reaches back to the early glam and metal era for some of its sounds — there’s a lot of T. Rex and Ziggy Stardust, and a little bit of Black Sabbath, in its grooves. As usual, though, Coomes and Weiss’s harshest critiques are reserved for their own impulses. One of the album’s centerpieces is an unhinged Big Star pastiche called “Nostalgia Kills,” and the climactic “New Western Way” skewers the culture of a generation raised on “Nestlé Quik mother’s milk/ Mickey Mouse plastic spoon.”