Could Quasi be getting burned out on their own sarcastic wit? After hearing Field Studies, I highly doubt it. Although the instrumentation is both more interesting and less interesting (depending on the song) than their last album Featuring "Birds", that same dark humor is pretty much ever-present. Whether you perceive it as a good thing or not, Quasi feels sort of like an indie-rock version of Ben Folds Five, using old keyboards instead of a piano, and with much more biting lyrics. Made up of former couple Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, the group also plays as a backup band for Elliot Smith (who also plays bass on the album on several tracks).
Just in case you might be thinking that the group is getting a little more happier, you need listen no further than the first song "All The Same." With an extra rich sound (due to a 3-piece string arrangement) and the opening line of "I'm not going to give it up for free anymore/and I don't really care if you label me a whore," you know the lyrics are the same old Coomes. After the louder opening track, the group calms things down quite a bit on "The Golden Egg." It's a sad, pretty song flavored with some strange, high guitar parts and piano. Things pick up again on the short "The Skeleton," but although the song is catchy, it sounds like several other tracks that the group has already done on other albums. Continuing the change-up, the group follows the track up another slow track in "The Star You Left Behind." With a very muffled drum beat and minimal organ and guitar sounds, the track is really a highlight for dual vocals by Weiss and Coomes.
The album doesn't really pick up again until a couple more songs in with "Birds." It's a rather funny track lyrically, but instrumentally it just doesn't really go much of anywhere. After several more slower numbers (including "A Fable With No Moral"), the duo tears into things with the nearly punk-rock "It Don't Mean Nothing." The album ends with several more mid-tempo tracks including the twisted carnival organ sounds of "Bon Voyage" and the hilariously-penned ode to second-best with "Smile." It's another track where the group uses a string arrangement, and it helps to add to the atmosphere and sarcasm of the lyrics "You lost by just a nose/But there's no prize for place or show/Now at least you know/So smile--it's not so bad." If you're having a bad day, just crank it up and sing along.
Overall, Field Studies is a lot less rowdy than their past albums. Whereas their last disc was marked by lots of up-tempo numbers, this release shows the group playing with lots of different sounds and working the slow song a little bit more. The additional instrumentation helps out on all the tracks that they use it, but the sparse-ness of others doesn't really hurt them. Lyrically, things are as good as ever (if you're into dark humor, that is), but the album is a little less hum-able than previous releases.