Q and Not U – Power

Q and Not U has always eluded me. I’ve had a nagging urge to write the band off as simply “good,” and with every album release, the trio comes just short of proving me wrong. Yet I still debate whether to pick up the new CD even while I realize that I may not like it. So what’s my deal? Do I have some sort of subconscious vendetta against the band? Freudian analysis aside, it really does make no sense: Q and Not U plays energetic, upbeat post-punk that is often danceable – exactly the kind of music I like. Harris Klahr and Christopher Richards have smooth, lively voices; the guitars are sharp and well-defined; the bass is funky; and John Davis’ catchy fills serve as a foundation for the band’s unique sound. Every album the band has released has been home to a few great songs, but I can’t escape the feeling that there’s just a little too much filler on each one.

Though it comes close, Power does not completely rid me of this nagging suspicion that Q and Not U is simply a good band playing far beyond its means. Most of the songs on Power are quite impressive, and a good number are excellent, but there are some songs that were probably better left in the studio – okay, they were probably better left for dead the second they entered the band’s collective mind. “Throw Back Your Head” is one of these; awkward, boyish vocals deviating way too far into the mosquito-falsetto range adorn a tuneless melody. As if that weren’t bad enough, some stupid wood flutes come in and completely destroy any semblance of a good song midway through – this one should have been abandoned cold and dying on the cutting room floor. “Dine” is okay, if a bit plodding. “Passwords” is an unremarkable affair; the vocals are squeaky, the guitars muddy, and the melody forgettable. None of these songs (possibly save “Throw Back Your Head”) is completely terrible, but each disrupts the flow of the album.

Okay, all complaining aside, there are more than enough utterly enjoyable moments on Power. “Wonderful People,” the opener, is a terrific song. Big drums and a frail guitar open up, soon joined by a booming, funky bass. All pretty standard Q and Not U so far – but what’s that? Is that an absurdly high-pitched falsetto? I’m pretty sure only my dog can hear half of the lines in this song. After the immediate shock, the shtick works wonders. The song is a caffeinated joyride featuring lines like “Wonderful people / I wonder if they’ll show me / wonderful secrets / and never leave me lonely,” and the call-and-response chorus at the end is simply awesome.

“7 Daughters” is also an excellent song. An almost Middle Eastern-sounding bass line slithers below similarly Egyptian synths. The mood is dramatic yet danceable. “LAX” is, if nothing else, really weird, but like most such Q and Not U efforts, it’s boyishly charming. “District Night Prayer” is a sincere offering dedicating the entire album to the band’s native DC. “Beautiful Beats” could have been culled from Different Damage with its clean guitars, pounding drums, and almost undetectable bass. “Book of Flags” is a call back even earlier in the band’s career (think No Kill No Beep Beep). The guitars are dramatic, the vocals desperate, the drums driving, the quirks charismatic. If nothing else, it proves that Q and Not U can still effectively pull off the sugar-high romps that brought the band fame.

Overall, the record is not without its flaws. The castrato vocals that are scattered throughout Power become tedious, and a few of the songs probably don’t warrant more than a few listens. But after removing those little disasters from your playlist (ah, the wonders of the digital age), the first complaint becomes easily forgivable, and what remains on the album is a number of excellent songs. No, I still haven’t changed my mind: before I call it an outstanding band, Q and Not U has to tighten up its sound and dump the flops that always appear on its records. Power is one step closer to this goal and, if nothing else, firmly establishes that the band is capable of writing exceptional songs in variable styles. After all is said and done, I’m left with the same taste in my mouth as after listening to Different Damage: maybe next time Q and Not U will be able to deliver the incredible album the band has come close to making three times already.