Album Review: Speedy Ortiz gets wiser on latest LP

A friend introduced me to Speedy Ortiz as “Nirvana with a female vocalist.” Considering just how much the grunge legend’s name is thrown around when describing contemporary garage and noise rock, I was skeptical.

After listening to the band’s debut full length Major Arcana, I was sold. The brooding, mumbled lyrics coupled with the distorted guitars and crashing percussion came together to create something special. Now, Speedy Ortiz is back with Foil Deer, the band’s sophomore follow-up to 2013’s Major Arcana

Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis has had her share of experiences with higher education. After two years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying math and music, Dupuis traded math for writing, eventually graduating from Barnard College with a concentration in poetry. Before breaking through with Major Arcana in 2013, Dupuis earned a Master of Fine Arts in poetry at University of Massachusetts Amherst. In the years since its release, she has been teaching poetry at her alma mater.

All that academic poetry has given Speedy Ortiz’s music a certain Leonard Cohen-quality. It has also, however, left Dupuis with a frustrated relationship with education. The angst comes out on “The Graduates,” where Dupuis bemoans the competition of higher education with the line “We were the law school rejects/So we quarreled at the bar instead.”

Amidst the academia and witticism, one can forget that Major Arcana was little more than a glorified breakup album. The same grungy, noisy pop-rock that made that album so listenable is not lost on Foil Deer. The opening minute on the first track “Good Neck” is a throwback to that aggressively fun, built-for-live-performance music from the first album. Dupuis has grown as an arranger since. The contrast of her mumbled lyrics plays well with new guitarist Devin McKnight’s clever riffs.

The evidence of the band’s growth comes in some of the more subtle lyrical shifts on Foil Deer. Easily lost within the power chords, cymbal crashes and garage-rock melodies are Dupuis’s more mature lyrics. The maturity is not displayed in a “Speedy vs. the World” sort of manifesto album, but in the band’s ability to have fun with its songs.

Whereas Major Arcana could be dense and disgruntled, Foil Deer—and especially the power-pop track “Raising the Skate”—is light. Dupuis takes a stand in this song, declaring, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.” This track—the album’s lead single—is a sort of statement of intent from Dupuis.

While Major Arcana made my list of 2013’s best albums, Foil Deer sees Speedy Ortiz taking the next step. It isn’t just another guitar rock band anymore. Now, it’s a band with something to say.

Rating: 4/5