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Final Solutions - Songs by Solutions

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Artist: Final Solutions

Album: Songs by Solutions

Label: Goner

Review date: Nov. 8, 2007

One of the more convoluted arguments for the decline of the music industry centers on the use audio compression. Pop music, the story goes, has been engaged in a "loudness war" over the last decade whereby a track is run through a filter during the final step of production. The filter amplifies the softer parts of the music to make the whole track sound louder. At first, this was a trick to made a song stand out on the radio, like turning up the volume on a TV advertisement. Now that it's applied to every track, the argument goes, it's all a roaring mess. Contemporary music is hard to listen to because there's no contrast between the softest and loudest parts. It becomes so tiring to pay attention, kids would never want to buy it on their own dime and play it on their own time. Who wants to write a check your ears can’t cash?

The complaint arose from commercial producers, who might understandably feel annoyed that their 32-track creation is given a final coat of loudness that blurs all subtlety, like an oil painting reduced to a crude silkscreen. But it's a tool, and it can be made to work. If someone is worried about artistic subtlety, you've got to wonder why they're in a business that's concerned about commercial radio airplay.

Still, the argument is factually valid. Consider the recording at hand: take the Pere Ubu song that's The Final Solutions' namesake, and put it in an audio editor. The image of the sound waves looks like a lathed furniture leg – curving up and down as the music swells and decays.

Put a Final Soultions' song in the editor, and it looks like a pipecleaner, reaming out the available spectrum of sound.

Does it sound bad, though? Not at all. Jay Reatard is behind the boards and behind the drums, and there's no one who's figured out how to use super-loud production better.

The Solutions describe themselves as an arty punk band, which is sort of funny considering a key track is about fake puke and the tempos never get slower than a Buzzcock single. Verses do veer towards spoken word, so maybe that's what they mean by arty, but the real art here is in overstuffing a song with simple riffs and finding a way to give each a chance to come to the foreground. Just when it would seem natural for the catchy bit to come around again, the song gives way to a disjointed squall. Or a spare keyboard notes. Or the snare drum takes center stage.

That's why the Solutions, as with most projects connected to Jay Reatard, sound so much more invigorating than the loudness-lacquered rock that's fighting for attention on the radio. They can put together a hook, but more importantly, they know how to showcase it so it's not just a blatant attempt to worm it’s way into your head. It's the same old punk topics – feeling numb, paranoia, a girl named Tammy, getting wasted, playing in a band – and the same three-chord bits. But instead of boosting the speed or volume, they get assembled just oddly enough to surprise.

There's a lot of Ramones-derived stuff in the mainstream nowadays that sounds especially crappy. I'm sure honest effort was thrown at those recordings to justify the cost of the studio equipment used, and that the dynamic range was manipulated to make it as snarling as possible. But that method is no match for something as cruddy-to-the-core as the Final Solutions. There's no way to polish these mumbling chunks of nervousness, like there's no way to get around the bad taste inherent in the name (they swear it's never been intended as more than a Pere Ubu reference). In the loudness war, the Final Solutions may be the enemy, but they’re winning.

By Ben Donnelly

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