The leap from band frontman to solo performer is always a little trickier than it seems. Just because one might succeed at the former doesn’t constitute triumph in the latter. It’s not necessarily because of a lack of talent or focus, but rather the expectations placed on one’s ability to live up to the sound of their former band. Nobody wants a carbon copy, but it’s also difficult to adjust to something new altogether. And if it’s an experiment, it had better be a good one. I can’t help but view splinter albums by my favorite artists in such a light, but I’m also an open-minded sort. I liked Travistan, for instance, where some may have considered it a failure. But much like the incredibly hard-to-fill shoes left unworn by The Dismemberment Plan, the void left by Q and Not U has created an inherent desire for new music by Messrs Klahr, Davis and Richards. Each has a new project, but Chris Richards is the first to release anything, his first solo record under the name Ris Paul Ric called Purple Blaze.
To expect anything sounding like Q and Not U might be a natural reaction before listening to Purple Blaze. But to hear such a thing may be a different story altogether. To put it straight, Ris Paul Ric ain’t Q and Not U. But as Chris Richards was a central songwriter in the DC post-hardcore combo, some familiar styles are certainly present on the record. Quieter songs from Different Damage and Power, and to some respect, the funkier songs as well, gave a hazy inclination of which direction Richards was to pursue as Ris Paul Ric. If Animal Collective were covering Q and Not U songs, they might sound something like this.
This isn’t “freak folk” so much as it is “funk folk.” As Richards has stated in interviews, the music on Purple Blaze was informed by the likes of Suicide and Prince, but recorded in an acoustic format, albeit with a fair amount of ambient augmentation, provided by Canadian electronic producer Tim Hecker. It’s a gentler, more intricate and intimate version of Richards, albeit a surreal and strange one. The many facets and layers to this record reveal themselves slowly in different shapes and forms. And heck, it’s pretty catchy to boot.
Richards displays his guitar playing talent in a much different form here, as evident in the lovely, deft string plucking in the title track. However, “Run Up Wild On Me” is a funked-up folktronica track with Richards delivering a righteous, almost Justin Timberlake-ish falsetto. And “Colonialism” and “Up in My Window” veer deeper into ambient sounds and textures, the latter being much less pop oriented than much of the material on the record.
There are 10 great songs on this record, as well as two hushed ambient transitional pieces, but two seem to stand out as being particularly amazing—”The Sleeparound” and “Valerie Teardrop.” The second of these, no doubt a titular homage to Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop,” features more prominent percussion, dinging bells and some cool-sounding background effects, lending the song a psychedelic sound that sets it apart. “The Sleeparound,” however, is a catchy bossanova tune, with odd lyrics like “Sleeping in a church/our bodies were meant to sleep around” and “This summertime will last 100 nights/100 nights for teachers to rehearse their lines.” More Caetano Veloso than Cat Stevens, it’s a true testament to the limitlessness of music played in a largely acoustic setting.
I won’t lie: I miss Q and Not U. But I am also very excited about Ris Paul Ric. By moving away from punk rock altogether on this release, Chris Richards has succeeded in recording a unique and bold solo effort that also happens to be rich in artistic ideas and fantastic songs. Aside from having played part in one of the decade’s most vital rock acts, Richards has also made the transition to one of the year’s most exciting new singer-songwriters, and it’s clear that he has a bright lavender future ahead of him.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.