At first listen, it’s hard to figure out where the half-hardcore, half-disco sound of Q and Not U’s “Power” fits into the wider scheme of indie-rock. The album certainly relies heavily on synthesized sound, but it is livelier and infinitely more punk than the chill melodies of an album like Postal Service’s introspective “Give Up”. The band has the same rock, disco, and funk influences as the Talking Heads, but as far as clones of the Heads go, Q and Not U don’t compare to Franz Ferdinand.
But check the liner notes: “Power” was released by Dischord Records, the label started started in 1980 by Ian MacKaye, the man behind Minor Threat and Fugazi. His name pops up in nearly every discussion of hardcore and emo, thanks to his near single-handed creation of the DC hardcore scene from scratch.
In the context of its record label, and the history behind it, Q and Not U makes a lot more sense. The band fuses disco with DC hardcore in much the same way as Red Hot Chili Peppers mixed funk with So-Cal punk rock — that is to say, skillfully. Q and Not U start with the basic hardcore guitar and lead vocals, but add a funk bass, synthesizers, and falsetto backup vocals for an amazingly odd “indie-disco” sound.
From the opening track “Wonderful People” (one of the album’s strongest) to the hopping “Tag Tag” (which is, at 4:40, the longest song on the album at 4:40), Q and Not U rocks and hops through thirteen tracks of danceable hardcore.
The combination, though interesting, leaves a lot out. A strong rhythm section is left by the wayside — and, in fact, the drummer recorded the album with an injured foot. Though the drums are subdued, they beat often emerges in surprising ways. On “Tag Tag,” for instance, almost all of the percussion comes from the hi-hat. This marks a significant departure from Q and Not U’s original sound. On their debut, “No Kill No Beep,” the band sounded a whole lot more like Fugazi than they do now.
Q and Not U haven’t just inherited Ian MacKaye’s sound, they’ve also adopted the political mindset that is at least as much a part of DC hardcore as its music is. And while they don’t come close to Fugazi’s uncompromising ethic, dubbed straight-edge, Q and Not U are not shy about politics. “X-Polynation” and “Book of Flags” are particularly striking in their political jabs: “Build another wall through your oval room,” they sing in “X-Polynation,” over rapid-fire flute and guitars.
While Q and Not U have developed their own odd sound over the past few years, they are still as much a DC hardcore band as ever, with the well-layered three minute political songs. If you can imagine liking DC hardcore-disco fusion, then you’ll love “Power”. If you like your indie-rock better when Ben Gibbard or Belle and Sebastian make it, on the other hand, this record may take some getting used to.