It’s been a good while since Qui put an album out. They’ve had plenty to contend with in the last seven years though (including Matt Cronk being injured by a roadside bomb whilst on duty in Iraq), so it’s not as if they don’t have a good excuse.
On their last outing, they had a little help from Jesus Lizard frontman and lunatic David Yow. His presence seemed to compress Qui into a tight ball of frantic post-punk energy, that had a singular vision and focus. Unfortunately he wasn’t available to help Qui out this time around. But no matter; Life, Water, Living… is still a weirdly intriguing album.
Anyone fearing that the band might be missing Yow’s wide/wild-eyed delivery can rest easy; there’s plenty of crazy to go around without him. Certainly Life, Water, Living… is generally a lot quieter than their previous album Love’s Miracle, but perhaps this was always inevitable with Yow now out of the picture. Quieter doesn’t necessarily mean that the band has lost the ability to create an impact; they’re just more subtle and twisted about it.
Kicked Out Of Mime College for example is a strange jazz infused nursery rhyme that, in another universe, Minutemen are playing right now on Yo Gabba Gabba. Awkward Human Interest meanwhile is a strange staccato dance through a bastardised version of The Girl From Ipanema, and Songbirds is a brooding slow burn of a song that seems to draw inspiration from Elvis Costello. In those rumbling drums and occasionally growling basslines lies a sense of discontent and barely contained violence. That it closes with a beautifully layered vocal that states “starving refugees are eating all the birds… flying south and not returning” points to the two sides of Qui’s character. The title track performs a similar trick, combining thrumming metallic guitars with quieter, more introspective moments. Once again, the vocals are wonderfully performed, with sweet harmonies that stand out against some quite angular, off kilter moments. Fans of Shudder To Think’s Pony Express Record will find much to keep them entertained here.
It’s not all subtlety and twisted musical corridors though, for Qui do occasionally submit to the more direct approach. Mucho Sex In America for example is a frantic and exhilarating charge of pent up aggression. If there’s sex being had to this song, then it’s sweaty, impulsive, and someone’s going to end up bruised. The instrumental Proof Of Bass is a taut and scathing blast of punk fury that doesn’t hang about in terms of getting to the point. These moments of directness however are mere islands in a sea of musical uncertainty.
Qui’s strengths and weaknesses lie at around the same point. On the one hand, they’re often musically exciting and challenging. They change styles, tempos and moods at the drop of a hat, meaning that their songs are never less than interesting. Yet this incredible juggling act can become discombobulating. Listening to Boogie Down Disappointment in the wrong mood could cause the listener to wish untold harm on Qui. Yet approach it with and open mind and its freaked out approach is endlessly entertaining.
You’re A Girl also meanders through jazz territory, pausing only to deliver a few metallic stabs before ambling off in discordant fashion. Yet The Kind Of Jazz This Is barely registers as jazz; in fact it’s a far funkier affair, complete with finger snaps and a swaggering attitude. Closing track Ham Spray sounds like Melvins and Ween performing a musical in a church. “You big fat fuck” is delivered in sledgehammer fashion, whilst the refrain of the disturbing line “give them the ham spray” is positively angelic. It’s jarring, but works wonderfully; something that thankfully applies to the majority of Life, Water, Living…