August 28, 2013

Summer Favorite Test Spins: Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz

Print More

Major Arcana, the debut release from Northampton, Massachusetts outfit Speedy Ortiz, may be deemed by some to be yet-another-’90s-indie-throwback worthy only of dismissive eye rolls and craftily snide remarks. With the outpouring of “Made in the 90s” t-shirts and overly pedantic Buzzfeed lists (12 Venereal Diseases You Got In The Nineties), cynics are right to fear the current nostalgia boom. We rewarded such kind of effort when The Killers borrowed from the “unremembered ’80s,” and what are we left with nearly ten years down the line? Shoddy Springsteen impressions and the timelessly idiotic question of “Are we human or are we dancer?” (Answer: you have a degenerative neural infection, sir, and need help immediately.)

However, Speedy Ortiz don’t seem like the type to devolve into self-parody and pomposity, likely because they’ve been in on the joke the entire time. Led by whip-smart singer-songwriter Sadie Dupuis (whose oft-referenced participation in the Pavement tribute band “Babement” marks her as a girl after my own heart), Speedy Ortiz does gnarled, deeply personal and subtly humorous guitar rock in a manner that doesn’t merely invite games of “spot the influence.”

But since I mentioned it: you got your Pavement-like wordplay here, mangled Archers of Loaf guitars there and from time to time you’d be forgiven for thinking that Liz Phair had unveiled some kickass old demos. This, of course, sells Speedy Ortiz short: a band of late twenty-somethings, they sound tighter and more tenacious than any of those bands (save Archers) in their heyday.

The inventive tunes are abetted by Dupuis’ deadpan deliveries, unconventional melodies and black sense of humor. On “Tiger Tent” she invites the abuse of her friends and lovers (“My gut absorbs the fiercest blows you’d never thought you had to throw”) amid cacophonous guitar crunches, while “Casper” revels in nefarious sexual longing, unraveling tales of kids “telling specter stories just to get each other horny.” While by standout middle-school loner jam “No Below” you’ll be getting wistful about sitting alone at lunch (or was that just me?), you’ll be happily pogoing and screaming “I’m getting my dick sucked on the regular!” along to the straight-ahead punk of “Fun.”

Rest assured: this is a noisy guitar record with personality to spare. Having exhibited charm on the celebrity-baiting, non-album single “Taylor Swift” and following it up with a rather memorable debut, I’d pay close attention to the mighty songwriting talents of Sadie Dupuis. Whether her words are dripping with self-loathing (“My mouth is a factory for every toxic part of speech I spew”) or desperate longing (“Why’d you pick the virgin over me?”), they remain highly personal and distinctly hers. With a powerful trio of musicians by her side, hopefully Speedy Ortiz can sidestep those ’90s throwback descriptions and be taken as what they are: a surprising and unique guitar group.

Listen to Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz via Spotify using the QR code below.

Original Author: James Rainis