The oddest thing about Quasi is not that the Portland duo makes most of its sound with keyboards and drums. It's that singer-songwriter Sam Coomes takes much of his inspiration from his failed marriage to his ongoing musical partner, percussionist Janet Weiss. "The pot won't call the kettle black/ And I can't even feel the knife in my back," sings Coomes in "The Golden Egg," a song from the band's new "Field Studies," and only his drummer knows just how personal a recrimination that is.
The twosome also accompanies Elliott Smith on tour, and like Smith -- who plays bass on three of these tracks -- Coomes tempers his dour reflections with pretty melodies. But despite the lushly layered sound of such tracks as "The Star You Left Behind" and "Two by Two" -- Weiss's only composition on the album -- Quasi doesn't quite trust pop. Even the album's most tuneful songs, notably "Smile," teeter between perfection and collapse. Still, such almost-cheery tunes as "Under a Cloud" suggest that Quasi has been listening to the Beach Boys -- or at least to the Beach Boyish tracks on Smith's "XO."
Keeping it all in the extended musical family, Quasi is touring with No. 2, whose Neil Gust started his career with Heatmiser, a Nirvana-struck band whose members also included Elliott Smith. Coomes and Smith guest on the trio's engaging new album, "Memory," but they don't fill out the sound significantly. These 10 songs are simple and direct, if not so fast or harsh as the singer-guitarist's grunge-era material. As bassist Gilly Ann Hanner's gentle backing vocals indicate, Gust, too, has become more amenable to melody. Indeed, two of these agreeably straightforward tracks are titled "Pop in C" and "Pop in A Minor," and even in a minor key Gust sounds pretty upbeat these days.
Both appearing Friday at the Black Cat with Mary Timony. To hear a free Sound Bite from Quasi, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8108. For a free Sound Bite from No. 2, press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)