Friday, November 23, 2007

yo, you remember how good q and not u was?

this week has definitely been q and not u week in mr. mammoth's head. the vegan posted something about them looking for pre-breakup live footage for a possible dvd (fingers crossed!), and everyone and their mother has been posting about georgie james, so there's been a lot of q and not u noise in my head. anyway, all that reminded me how good they were, so i've been listening to no kill no beep beep all week, and i figured i would remind all of you how good they were as well.

q and not u disbanded two years ago, ending a seven year stint as one of the more relevant and original bands to emerge from the d.c. punk scene. though the term "dance-punk" is one often associated with q and not u, the unfortunate connotations and limitations of that genre really can't explain the band's rather unique post-hardcore sound. q and not u released all three of their albums on d.c. punk mainstay dischord records, an appropriate home for both their angular melodies and frontman chris richards's leftist lyrics. the band's breakup came as a surprise to many, considering the critical and financial success of power, q and not u's last album; in their farewell note, richards wrote, "we feel that we've reached all of our shared goals as q and not u and we're ready to move on to other projects in life."

q and not u's members have certainly moved on - john davis (georgie james) has received a lot of publicity lately, christopher richards released the disco-inflected purple blaze last year as ris paul ric, and harris klahr is currently recording as president, with an album expected (and a show at glasslands on 11/27). none of these projects reflect an iota of the q and not u spirit, perhaps affirming that the goals of the band were fulfilled, and then discarded. it is really only through q and not u's absence that the breadth of their contributions (and the hole they left) is apparent.

q and not u exploded onto the scene in 2000, in the kind of way where no one noticed. no kill no beep beep, i contend, is their best album, rich in its creativity. an addictive blend of punk's recklessness and anti-establishment dogma, and the jarring, angular guitars of dance-punk, no kill no beep beep is furious and detached, a mix of biting social commentary ("fever sleeves," a bald, disdainful attack on fashion and the upper class) and the joy of sweaty moshpit dancing (the anthemic "hooray for humans," where klahr wails "D-O-W-N; and that's the way we get down!"). these traits, of course, continued to set q and not u apart throughout its lifetime, but no kill no beep beep set the foundation and benchmark for the band. every song is worth listening to; every song is worth enjoying. the air crackles with energy in eardrums, their music tenacious, raw, and exhilarating.

no kill no beep beep opens with a bang as the electric "line in the sand" sputters to life. instantly recalling the more well-known art-hardcore of fellow d.c.ers the dismemberment plan, "line in the sand" is taut and furious. as davis lays down a stiff beat, guitars wildly distorted as richards and klahr sing with screams, the song evolves, stark and harsh at the start, into a clap-happy, angular dance song. some songs are clearly more infectious than others, such as "nine things everybody knows," a spastic dance anthem, but no kill no beep beep rarely falters. q and not u make one concession on the album, the slow, ruminative "kiss distinctly american," marked by richards's repeated "we kissed goodnight with a firm handshake," one of the more baleful looks at american society, but q and not u are none the less ferocious for the calm - before it is extinguished in a slow decrescendo, "kiss distinctly american" rises to a haze of distortion. "little sparkee," on the other hand, carries some screamo overtones, a barely two-minute klahr song with lots of jagged guitars and wailing. as for the album's end, "sleeping the terror code" - it trembles with prescient anxiety, fearful of a creeping evil.

q and not u returned two years later, now a three piece (matt borlik played bass on no kill no beep beep), with different damage, a more sober (yet just as disparaging) look at america. different damage occupies a strange place in the q and not u discography as their sophomore album; they have clearly moved away from the whirling intensity of no kill no beep beep, but have not yet fully embraced the synthy, dance sounds that define power, their third album. different damage follows "kiss distinctly american" and "sleeping the terror code" more than their peers, less punky and more experimental, almost, especially on songs like "o'no." different damage is a turning point, divided nearly in half between frenetic punk and slow, deliberate songs about life, love, and, of course, politics.

the first two songs on different damage set the album's tone, the divide between ferocity and reflection - "soft pyramids" is almost tender, a sweet singalong that is starkly contrasted with its neighbor, the vitriolic "so many calls," a jittery and sneering attack on our broken healthcare system. the album continues pairing soft songs with edgy ones, as "air conditions" and "black plastic bag" attest, the latter another wailing klahr tune with fingernail guitar and a round bass line built for dancing. a personal favorite is "everybody ruins," an elbowy on-off-on again tune that is all the more satisfying for its denial. "no damage nocturne," towards the end of the album, is a return to clap-happy form, but falls more in line with "soft pyramids" than "line in the sand." the preponderance of quiet songs on different damage does not foreshadow power in the least, and that album shocked as many longtime q and not u fans as it attracted new ones.

in a way, i'm almost glad q and not u broke up after this album. their evolution from an arty post-hardcore dance-punk band to a not-so-arty, not even hardcore, dance (light on the punk) band is disappointing, to say the least. with power, they were able to curry the favor of the prevailing dance craze, embodied by bands like bloc party and the rapture, but this success came at the expense of their older punk ethic. power finds q and not u relying on synthesizers in an unprecedented way; whereas klahr and richards took turns playing bass on different damage, klahr stuck almost exclusively to his keyboards and synths on this album, propelling q and not u out of tiny clubs and into dance halls.

q and not u did not totally abandon their sound, however, and power's best songs are a powerful blend of their jarring, angular startstop style and thick synthy bass. the best representation of this is "wet work," defined by its bouncy, twitching guitar line and richards's falsetto, the synths reinforcing rather than dominating. the falsetto richards uses here is a common trick on power, appearing on album opener "wonderful people" as well as "district night prayer," a trick previously unused. the first song that really attracted me to power was "collect the diamonds," an anti-diamond mining diatribe with a catchy piano part and self-disparaging singalong chorus, though richards's lyrics are noticeably lacking his normal ferocity. interestingly, power's back half sounds much more like old q and not u - "x-polynation" is a furious, charging song, one of the band's best, and "book of flags" and "tag tag" are the perfect epilogue for q and not u. "tag tag" is the culmination of three albums' worth of songs about secrecy and anonymity. here, as on "we heart our hive" and "everybody ruins," richards's lyrics revolve around the value of individuality, of divorcing our minds and bodies from the corrupt, false power of bureaucracy. its chorus, "tell me nonfiction," the most powerful idea richards ever had, is q and not u in a nutshell. rebellious and anti-establishment to the last, q and not u is a band sorely missed.

"wet work"

buy all q and not u albums from dischord.


Christopher said...

i will always associate wet work with my time spent in edinburgh, i was obsessed with that song at the time (still am). awesome post man.

lalahsghost said...

I still listen to many of their songs from no kill no beep beep on a daily/weekly basis.