Friday, July 2, 2010

Album Review: Q and Not U - No Kill No Beep Beep

Q and Not U: No Kill No Beep Beep
[Dischord 2000]


The conventional understanding of punk, in particular that harsh brand that loyally draws lineage from the violent mosh pits of the hardcore ‘80s, tells you that punk is all politics. And if you consider D.C. punk? Well break out the megaphones, the White House is a few blocks away! But while the proud history of punk rock in the nation’s capital has surely seen plenty of anti-machine and “*** Bush” bands, some of the most important bands of the scene have eschewed the soapbox and instead got more personal and analytical; the targets of firebombs are not world leaders but societies, perceptions, ourselves. They are bands that not only leave us more impassioned, but also smarter.

Add Q and Not U to the list of such groups. Their 2000 post-hardcore debut No Kill No Beep Beep is as slanted and code-talking as its title. The album enlightens, but certainly in a lyrically avant-garde way with cryptic one-liners and fragmented imagery. Deciphering listeners require dictionaries (“No cognoscenti / can stab critique in the back for making me cognizant”) and imaginations (“Tired of waking up with a new haircut every morning / so it’s no scissors in bed”). Much of the lyrics seem to vent the frustrations of the young and urban, albeit in abstracts.

However the interpretations go, you will at least find the band’s signs and symbols are more often than not ripped to shreds by jagged riffs, beeping guitars and furious drumming. Lead singer Chris Richards spits composed, clear vocals while leaving strangled cries to Harris Klahr, whose shaky pronunciations and unstable aesthetic nicely balances out Richards. It is more credit to Richards, however, for keeping No Kill No Beep Beep consistently melodic. As machine-like guitar beeps scream for attention on “And the Washington Monument (Blinks) Goodnight”, Richards’ composed singing retains clarity and weight. “Fever Sleeves” is perhaps the most melodic track here, however, as the guitars offer less resistance to the tuneful rise and fall of the action. On many other tracks as well, Q and Not U remain tuneful, even catchy, but they never lose their rough edges.

A cursory but reasonable description of No Kill No Beep Beep would be that it definitely sounds a good deal like fellow Washingtonians Fugazi. The band has clearly memorized End Hits and it’s dabbing of the punk rock brush into quiet, brooding compositions is not lost here: “Kiss Distinctly American” and closer “Sleeping the Terror Code” both explore quiet, pensive territory (and both are great songs, by the way). Furthermore, it is a D.C. punk band after all, so it’s not surprising that Q and Not U are on the legendary Dischord records and have Ian MacKaye’s fingerprints all over it, having produced the album. Richards even pays homage to Fugazi with a rewording of a line from “Do You Like Me” off of Red Medicine, something astute fans will register.

The album also abounds with dance-punk influences that suggest the influence of the Dismemberment Plan, another D.C. band. While never reaching the Plan’s level of silly insanity or Emergency & I’s pop-accessibility, Q and Not U share their herky-jerky flirtations with danceable music and offer flashes of light-hearted play (See: “Hooray for Humans” about a minute in).

But unless you’re a strict, no-fun purist, the fact that Q and Not U rubs shoulders with its influences does nothing to minimize the band’s own creative directions and punk energy. Q and Not U is not posturing, they are simply a product of their environment that has taken their influences and made a new animal with so much force and brains that they don’t need blow horns and lame sloganeering to make waves. Their unique fusion of styles is more than the sum of its parts on No Kill No Beep Beep. Their debut, smart and furious, firmly builds upon D.C.’s true punk tradition.


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