When I saw Q and Not U take the stage in 1999 to promote their upcoming Dischord debut, No Kill No Beep Beep, they were one of those bands around D.C. that had a stranglehold on the buzz. I’ll give them one album and two years, I thought to myself. Tops. Looks like they got the last laugh. It’s five years later, and despite jettisoning bassist Matt Borlik in 2002, Q and Not U is as vital and exciting as ever. And that comes through on their third full-length, Power.
Whereas No Kill No Beep Beep had traces of a brewing dance party, everything rolls into motion this time around. Traces of R&B and even a little disco are added to Power, effectively cultivating a groove that has always been just below the radar.
“Wonderful People” begins the album awash in a 21st-century disco vive with call-and-response lyrics. Re-imagine Studio 54 as the basement of a group house in Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C. and you won’t be too far off. Some new tricks are thrown into the mix, especially on “Wet Work,” a slinky dance number with a chorus that reveals an exploding bass line that bounces like an excited jack-in-the-box. The keyboard intro on “Collect the Diamonds” leads into a gently yearning rhythm-and-punk number that shows that the group is assured in a new skin.
“X-Polynation” and “Book of Flags,” which were released as a single last year, were re-recorded with varying results. The updated version of the former shows more vigor, coming off with a truer-to-life feel. The latter song is more atmospheric and funky, but it pales in comparison to the version on the single.
Akin to a similar movement twenty years ago, the ever-swirling colors of rock music have shifted to accept the low end with open arms. Q and Not U has remained fearless as a band, appropriating a number of styles into an already impressive playbook. On Power, this trio has created sounds that, four years ago, most never expected to come from them. But as a testament to their flexibility, they have made everything on their own terms.