Shriek and Spell

Q and Not U deconstructs the ABCs of punk rhetoric.

"He's far from infallible," adds Davis, obviously baffled by our commander-in-chief's sustained, if slipping, popularity. "I mean, what is unbeatable about Bush? You just have to give people options; you have to move them. You have to make them realize that they deserve better than George Bush."

To this end, Q and Not U is bringing reams of voter-registration forms along on tour to try to encourage show-goers to participate in next year's presidential election. "There's definitely a contingent of younger people out there who need to vote," says Davis, "and we play for a lot of younger people. We figure this is a good opportunity to get people aware and registered."

As noble and worthwhile as this registration drive is, though, the members of Q and Not U could potentially reach more people by singing straightforward protest lyrics instead of abstruse, elliptical poetry. After all, language can be powerful, as punks since the dawn of time have known. Just hold a seance and ask Joe Strummer about the benefits of Situationist sloganeering.

Men of letters: John Davis, Harris Klahr and 
Christopher Richards of Q and Not U.
Shawn Brackbill
Men of letters: John Davis, Harris Klahr and Christopher Richards of Q and Not U.

"It's a good thing to think about: Are we defeating ourselves sometimes by being too insular or too obscure?" says Davis. "That's something that comes up a lot in the band, the idea of expression and toying with the notion of language, what words and songs are supposed to mean. I think that's something we like to mess with, especially in the lyrics. We like twisting these general notions of communication."

This ambiguity even carries over to Klahr and Richards's voices, whose tones are sometimes so intertwined as to be inseparable. "It's hard to hear the difference in their styles," Davis admits, sounding like a dad who can't tell his own twins apart. "They're pretty similar to me, though I'm sure theyknow the difference."

In the intro to "Soft Pyramids," Klahr (or is it Richards?) tenderly exhales strings of letters grouped in threes: "S-O-F... T-P-Y... R-A-M... I-D-S... E-V-A... P-O-R... A-T-E." Plucked harmonics puncture the air like neutrinos. After the song kicks in with a skittering polyrhythm, the melody is stretched taut between clenched guitars and fluttery synths. Shards of Fela Kuti, Augustus Pablo and Gang of Four assemble themselves into a fractured mosaic. As a melodica wheezes eerily along, the final line, "Clue me in," is sung in a saccharine -- almost sarcastic -- croon.

"Spelling out the words at the beginning of Soft Pyramids was kind of a joke on the people who were mad about the lyrics on the first record," Davis confesses. "People got so upset, saying the words were incomprehensible, so this was like our little response. It was just to tease everyone who got worked up over the fact that they didn't know what we were talking about.

"What we do is not necessarily always deep and meaningful," he adds, sounding just a tad mischievous. "Sometimes we're really just playing around."

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