Review ·

I was sad to see Q and Not U go. I missed the boat on the band in many ways, but I did see Q and Not U at the tail end of the tour for their excellent sophomore release, Different Damages, and I caught their ferocious and rigid live sets several times through the release of their third and final LP, Power.  A little more punk than dance-punk, they earned a reputation as "Fugazi Jr." with their penchant for activism, screaming guitars and, of course, their home at Dischord Records (and hometown of Washington, D.C.) and their Ian MacKaye-produced debut. The band's rather abrupt end this summer saw the immediate splintering of guitarist/singer Chris Paul Richards into Ris Paul Ric, his inevitable solo project that emerges as an unexpected and often refreshing turn into bedroom recording.


For Ris Paul Ric, Richards brings his signature breathy vocals to the forefront of his sonically adventurous acoustic guitar noodling. Though it doesn't quite fall into the much-discussed freak-folk category, the album is subdued and in only a few ways similar to his work with Q and Not U. He does continue with his fun with falsetto from last year's Power, which has often bordered on Prince impressions, but here he combines it with superbly ethereal acoustic layering.


But what's most notable here are the experimental interludes that fall between the straightforward bedroom jams. These range from Eraserhead drones to nearly inaudible gurgles. Richards is clearly on his own here, and these experiments reinforce that he's jettisoned his previously angry and charged tone and is looking toward something new. Unfortunately, this is hit and miss - recorded birds chirping has been done before. Too often.


Q and not U was always politically minded, and luckily Richards doesn't forfeit these ideals just because he's turned down his volume. Sly analogies and observations of the social impact of politics have been his lyrical forte, and on "The Sleeparound," one of Purple Blaze's hooky standouts, he croons about "one thousand nights for diplomats to lock their doors" and "one thousand nights for nations to forfeit their rights."  


Purple Blaze makes it abundantly clear why the members of Q and Not U felt they had accomplished their goals. Richards has a great deal of ideas going on here - quieter, subdued, experimental, solo project ideas. Ris Paul Ric may not be suited for some Q and Not U fans, but Richards has the musical chops and audacity to step to the forefront of the avante singer-songwriter scene, and this is by all means a strong first step.  


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