Monday, December 1, 2008

Q And Not U. Power (Dischord, 2004)

"And all this beautiful is smuggled like a secret/ And it doesn't have to be that way."

The indie ears of the early aughts were ceaselessly besieged by the sounds of a newly-named -- if not newly-conceived -- genre: dance punk. Though the idea of marrying funky-drummer rhythms and disco beats to crankily distorted guitars was nothing entirely new (see: Gang of Four, ESG, Fugazi, the Dismemberment Plan, many, many others), for whatever reason, the idea seemed novel in the light of the new millennium. Who knows why? Maybe folks felt like dancing away the tension and dread of the early 21st century, but without actually having to listen to techno (like we did in the '90s).

At any rate, a bunch of dance punk bands started popping up, many of them based out of NYC (Brooklyn, to be exact): groups like Liars, the Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, !!!, Out Hud, and Radio 4 took indierock and post-punk's eggheaded self-absorption to the dancefloor, crafting groovy, spiky tracks for all the clever kids in the coastal cities. And it was a pretty good sound, to be perfectly honest: fun to listen to, good to see live, and, at its best, catchy and smart (at its worst, goofy, drug-addled, and pretentious). And though dance punk will likely always be associated with the Big Apple, DC's Q And Not U were some of the sound's foremost stylists: over the course of three LPs, these Dischord signees produced some of the hookiest, most engaging tracks of the brief era, and Power, their 2004 swansong, is one of the best testaments to the possibilities of the form.

Q And Not U arrived on the scene in 2000, first with the DeSoto EP Hot and Informed, and then with the debut long player No Kill No Beep Beep on Dischord. This first album was beyond impressive, a deft mix of DC-style righteous, overeducated anger and dance party beats which came across as the best prom music ever. 2002 follow-up Different Damage was more of the same, betraying zero signs of a sophomore slump and demonstrating a clear sense of musical progression and stylistic forward motion. Q And Not U were Dischord's flagship band at the time, one of the best groups in the city, and a reason to be excited. Which was why the announcement of their breakup, shortly after the release of Power in fall 2004, stung so sharply. But at least they got Power out: it's a fitting memorial to a much missed band.

From Power's opening track, you can tell this is gonna be a party. "Wonderful People" crashes through the speakers with a heavy, infectiously syncopated beat and trebly, Booker T and MG's-aping rhythm-guitar scratches, livened up with
West Coast G-funk synth stabs and a falsetto vocal line to make Prince proud. It's a pretty intoxicating brew and sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Wonderful People

Luckily, the album doesn't disappoint. "7 Daughters" is a sinister plodder, eerily insistent and heavy-footed. "L.A.X." is nervy and rushed, one the album's more headstrong tracks. LP standout "Wet Work" is a joyous, ass-shaking jam, with addictive guitar breakdowns and ferocious drumming by John Davis (later of the similarly-short-lived Georgie James). When the song slides into its final movement at the 2:47 mark, it's one of the best musical moments of 2004.

Wet Work

Elsewhere, "Collect the Diamonds" is built around a pounding piano section, adding bright melodies and a gently unraveling guitar line to nice effect. "Beautiful Beats" is stellar, with glowing chords and darkly expansive keyboard fills fighting for center stage over the Studio 54 thump-and-grind. The high-octane "Book of Flags" is top-notch 21st century punk-funk, and finds the band essentially building a house and raising a family in the pocket.

Beautiful Beats

Dance punk came and went, but it left a handful of good records in its wake. The best of these don't sound dated, and instead can conjure up some vaguely wistful memories of GW's first administration. And I'll tell you this: there's nothing vague about my wistful memories of Q And Not U. I loved this band, and was (am) proud that they came from DC. Power is as good a reason as any to stay proud.