Finally, a dance-rock hybrid that is both danceable and musical. Ninja Tune's latest signing reminds us that they are one of the most consistently excellent labels in the game.
To fully understand the Qemists' debut album, Join the Q, it is important to note that the trio did not begin as a drum and bass DJ collective. They began as a rock band -- guitar, bass, and drums. So while other drum and bass acts such as Pendulum have attempted to combine drum and bass with rock, the Qemists have an inherent understanding of typical rock structure, and thus, their genre blending seems much more natural than their contemporaries'. Join the Q manages to stay almost uncompromisingly true to both genres it emulates. With guest appearances from both ends of the spectrum, including the versatile Mike Patton of Faith No More fame and grime superstar Wiley, the Qemists make their music fit very different vocal styles, with success on nearly every track.
Join the Q is relentlessly aggressive from beginning to end. The two opening tracks are more a twisted, electro metal than drum and bass. The drum machine feels like a real metal drummer, with double bass accents driving the beat forward and changing from the regular tempo to double and half tempo with ease. The synth sounds are made to sound as much like guitar and bass as possible. "Stompbox" jumps from Rage Against the Machine jam sessions to frenetic metal on the fly, while "Lost Weekend" takes that frenetic metal and puts Mike Patton's freakish wails over the top of it. Still, more subtle influences find their way into these tracks. About two minutes into the song, Patton's voice gets a solo break that sounds more like Kanye with the heavy autotune effects on the line “I got your money”.
While the album never quite reaches the brute force of its opening again, the tempo and intensity never relent, except for the intro to "S.W.A.G.", which enters a spaced-out trip hop beat before returning to album's regular upbeat style. Every vocalist brings a new influence to the Qemists' sound, such as Jenna Gibbons' reverb-laden vocals on "On the Run" or Wiley's hip-hop and grime-styled rapping on "Dem Na Like Me". In the shapeshifting "S.W.A.G.", Devlin Love proves her versatility as a member of Alabama 3, or A3, best known for the song "Woke Up This Morning", which opened every episode of The Sopranos. At times emulating Gibbons' styles and other times sounding like the best female rock vocalist in the business, Love makes the best contribution to the album. Another highlight is Beardyman's incredible beatboxing on the interlude "Soundface". The track is almost entirely a cappella, with some effects on the voices, but it sound just like a Beardyman manages to reproduce the Qemists' sound almost perfectly.
Still, the guest vocalists are not what makes the album so excellent. It is, as with most dance music, the beats behind the vocals, and even the tracks without guest spots are fantastic. “When Ur Lonely” is the longest, most dynamic song on the album, introducing its main themes before dropping everything and building back up into a face-melting climax. Unfortunately, it is in the instrumentals where the sound gets slightly stale. The main melody of "When Ur Lonely" sounds very similar to the main melody of "Stompbox", and it shows why the Qemists may have made the right decision when they dropped their guitars for electronic substitutes. Regardless, their formula, at least for their first album, works.
Though it lacks variety in tempo and intensity, Join the Q remains an enjoyable and fun listen for the duration, maintaining an accessibility that most drum and bass music cannot achieve for one song. The variety in the album stems from the Qemists' ability to make slight alterations to their sound to fit the style of their various guest vocalists, while showing their own creativity on instrumental tracks placed strategically throughout. Thanks to the dynamic drum programming and versatile synth voices that can take the music into any genre necessary, the disc is constantly engaging. It injects a sense of musicality so deprived from most dance music, and it maintains that musicality consistently.