In just four years, Speedy Ortiz has evolved from into one of indie music’s most expressive and pensive outfits. It’s quite the accomplishment for a band who started off creating lo-fi and experimental punk-pop tracks on their debut LP The Death of Speedy Ortiz, during which time they rocked out in basements and little venues while drinking Bud Light. Their sophomore album, Major Arcana, and handful of EPs in between saw the Massachusetts foursome take the next step to fine-tuning their sound and establishing more cohesion between the guitar work of Sadie Dupuis and Devin McKnight and the rhythms of Mike Falcone (drums) and Darl Ferm (bass).
Now on Foil Deer, the quartet have taken another step, both musically and lyrically. While Dupuis has always been an extremely gifted songwriter (and poet), she combines the poignant approach of her earlier songs while adding more vivid and allegorical elements, building on her studies and published works in poetry. Musically, the band has expanded its palette, delving into post-punk and industrial sounds while also channeling their early foundations, which includes incorporating the use of keyboards and acoustic guitars on occasion. Brought together, a seismic album is created.
It starts right from the beginning with the quick “Good Neck”, that commences with grunge-rock introduction before reducing itself into a melodious, lo-fi pop track that has Dupuis whispering affectionately a warning, possibly a threat. It’s the perfect segue to the excellent “Raising The Skate”. With the poignancy of Liz Phair, Dupuis sings contemptuously to the numerous of people who were either fakes or mistreated her. It’s the anthem for a young generation of malcontents who want to carve out a niche based on individuality and not conformity.
“Graduates” builds on this theme. It’s a song that rages about the competitive nature of today’s society and the importance of being the best. This is best exemplified by the chorus of: “I was the best at being in second place; now I’m just the runner-up”. While it could be interpreted as a song of a loser mentality, it is the opposite. Whereas “Graduates” lulls the listener in with its pop melodies, “Homonovus” is edgy, hard alt-rock. The anger in Dupuis’ voice isn’t hidden, but instead it is amplified by her bandmates’ explosive instrumentation.
It is on “Puffer” where the band breaks out with an industrial sounding track that beckons to Garbage. It’s an edgy even funky track that stuns more musically than lyrically. It’s the one track where the instrumentation outshines Dupuis’ storytelling. “Zig” is like the little sibling of “Puffer”. Adopting the same dark, dense approach but slowed down by a couple of beats, Dupuis asks, “What’s wrong with playing possum?” and later answers, “It’s true that if I go inside I may never come out.” It’s the further advancement of the underlying theme of the battle of individuality vs. conformity.
“Mister Difficult” is one of the few tracks that speaks to a specific, damaging relationship. The track has one of the most honest lyrics on the album, such as, “I never flex for your benefit. No, I thought I would always be a benefit to you.” In addition, “But you never get hit without earning it and I only hit you first because I deserve my own hit, too.” The swings in melody and sound – from grunge to pop-rock – add to the complexity and emotional roller coaster of the track.
For 12 tracks, Foil Deer challenges the listener. Lyrically, the songwriting is powerfully. Sonically, the music scintillates on one track but then can be a glorious, rambling punk tune. It’s an album that shows the growth of a foursome that is doing something different, something completely engrossing. And like the main theme of the album, Speedy Ortiz are taking a route not traveled by many and, thus, attempting to succeed on their own terms.
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