It’s prudent to begin this review by noting that I might be the only person in the United States who cares about Solids. Through countless editorial meetings, I pitched the Canadian power-punk duo in every capacity with great panache, and for reasons I’m still unclear on, I was continually met with stiff shrugs from my co-editors and an attitude of “this is your band now—do with it what you will.” Sometimes you can oversell a band. Sometimes it feels right to claim ownership of a record. And sometimes there is no explanation for why certain music speaks to you and not to someone else. (My lifelong distaste for Bob Dylan covers this exactly—shrug.) In the case of Montréal’s Solids and their debut record, Blame Confusion, I continue to be their biggest American cheerleader, waving a gaudy Solids flag all the way down in New York to a crowd of absolutely no one (okay, a few people, most of whom I've recruited). In writing this review I’ve begun to wonder, “If a band makes your favorite record of the year, but you’re the only one in a forest to hear it, is it still a great record?” Excuse my being handsy, but I’m going to wrangle you into this forest with me.
Perhaps my love for Solids was already brewing before I'd even heard them. Enamored of Canada, positively unhinged at the shrill pierce of confident guitarwork, and intrigued by any band with enough gumption to self-release, I was somewhere near half biased before my first listen. But that bias could have deflated with ease if Blame Confusion weren’t such a killer debut. Terse and to the point, the first spin through was like double-taking at the sight of a celebrity on the sidewalk alone: Why are they here? Where did they come from? And why are they so striking? After slogging through pitch after pitch of new music that lacked in heart or perspicacity, Solids’ debut felt aged and ripe, ready for its definitive listen, and able to withstand the weight of a lengthy and inquisitive review. It could and should also withstand a second, third, and fourth LP run, and a solid label contract, but those things will come eventually, too.
Blame Confusion is a romance with guitar and drums. Unlike the EP that it follows up—the looser, more artistic Generic Dogs—it is a barreling-forth experiment in maximizing sound when the instruments are only two and the hands are only four. As the duo told the Montreal Gazette, they forwent a bassist in favor of a pedal that mimics a bass amp, a deliberate decision that reflects Solids’ ethos: the grandest sound with the least digits. From the ethereal hammering and squeals that flip us over sideways into the record, the listener will have the distinct feeling of boarding a panicked, ignited train that can’t afford—or maybe doesn’t want—to slow down. By the album’s second track, “Off White”, we’ve already established a pattern—start small and tumble into largesse. In fact, the first three tracks utilize a similar technique of masking what is coming our way, then doubling down on it, packing in pressure beyond what the record can even sonically handle. The production quality of Blame Confusion is so high and massive that there could be fifty people playing along in synchronicity, on even more guitars and drums, and it gives it a Wizard of Oz smoke and mirrors character. The band takes influence from Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, and it is evident: there is so much excess noise that the risk of letting frontman Xavier Germain-Poitras’ vocals slip by unnoticed is actually quite high. Attribute their clarity, however, to excellent mixing.
Solids is clearly influenced by a few other contemporary duos—No Age, Japandroids, and Japanther all come to mind—but they manage to stand apart in their cauterizing mastery within the power-punk genre. Where Japandroids records have the tendency to flop after the good tracks, and No Age gives greater credence to experimentation over melody, Blame Confusion’s undeniable highlights are the guitar and vocal melodies that shine through when you least expect them. I neared feelings of heartache when, during the dense and deep “Terminal”, at around the 2:20 mark, the guitar clicks and shifts into a high-pitched and chorused guitar riff. A similar, unexpected take can be found on “Through The Walls” (perhaps a tribute to another contemporary, Yuck, and their slyly similar “The Wall”), where Germain-Poitras intones, “Stop / listening through the wall” and it feels antidotal, deliberate. Whether you’re a fan of aggressive power duos or not, Solids takes on massive sound with poise, and they never place favor on either mud or melody. The balance has a serene result—poignant melodies that puncture the noise bubble lend Blame Confusion its exuberance and allow it to stand above most noisy guitar-and-drums albums. Add that on to the duo's lyrical sageness and you'll find an album more weathered than deciduous bark. Falling into the deep dark forest with a band as noisy as Solids may seem scary or dangerous at first, but don't forget—it's almost sugaring season in Montréal. You'll be fine.
Blame Confusion, a self-released record, is out now and can be picked up here.