By: Eric Greenwood
In the two years since revitalizing Dischord with its impressive debut, No Kill No Beep Beep, Q And Not U has lost a key member in its bassist, Mathieu Bourlique, and consequently morphed into a slightly unrecognizable beast. This new beast takes a while to find its footing, but once it does the old days are almost forgotten. Q And Not U has pushed its erratic post-punk formula to its creative limits and successfully discovered a truly unique sound. Incorporating more polyrhythmic and jazzy structures into its sound has given Q And Not U the new lease on life that a band requires after losing a key member.
Different Damage may surprise Q And Not U's core fan base, as it emphasizes melody over brash antagonism. Drummer John Davis shows he's not unfamiliar with the output of the Thrill Jockey label, sputtering away on his snare like John McEntire. Singer Chris Richards is fearless in his quest for melody, even at the risk of alienating fans of the band's harsher moments. The opener "Soft Pyramids" is the most shocking moment of the album. I couldn't believe it was the same band that produced No Kill No Beep Beep. Richards coyly spells the song's title in a double-tracked harmony with himself and proceeds to coo his way through the strangest pop song on a Dischord release in over a decade.
Things return to slightly familiar territory by the second song, "So Many Animals Call." In addition to the splintering, herky-jerky guitars the band employs infectious, almost danceable grooves in an aggressive and driving display. It's undeniably catchy even with deliberately atavistic noise effects lurking in the background. The soft, clean guitars and slightly feminine vocal melody of "Air Conditions" sustains itself through quick, quirky rhythms and warm chord structures that threaten to rock but never do. "Black Plastic Bag" is the first time the band revisits its previous sound. Gang Of Four-ish guitars clang beneath Richards' frantic scream as Davis pummels his kit.
Trading attitude for substance is the overriding strength of Different Damage. There's far less punk rock posturing than on No Kill No Beep Beep much to the benefit of the songwriting. The band actually explores its strengths with unflinching confidence. It doesn't always work, but when it does the music shines, as on the testosterone charged "Meet Me In The Pocket", perhaps the most straightforward rock song on the album. The thudding low end and flashy affected behavior of "This Are Flashes" contradicts what I've just said, straining for style over substance, but it's not the standard. The far too brief punk experiment "Everybody Ruins" is a highlight with its growling intensity and frenzied energy.
The loose, trippy "Snow Patterns" throws the type of curveball that the opener does, but it's less shocking the second time around, though equally effective. Richards' double-tracked vocals are soothing and serene as he lobs out angular verse: "crowds they heat me with deceit the weather has been hiding secret messages in snow, little fortunes so well hidden in the snow, just waiting in the snow." Davis tests his quickness and endurance on the raucous "When The Lines Go Down", which uses the high-hat to great effect. Thankfully, the indulgent "O'No" is only a minute long, saved by the dark arpeggios of "No Damage Nocturne." "Recreation Myth" ends Different Damage on an abrasive yet emotional note.
Q And Not U proves itself as much more than a post-punk one trick pony on Different Damage. The energy and excitement of its earlier incarnation is still present, but the music reveals more depth to its bag of tricks. Different Damage is an artsy record, requiring more attention than flashy, frivolous aggression typically does. The result may alienate some fans, but the awkward growth spurt should prove more rewarding in the end.