I’m not sure I’m smart enough to truly ever get into Speedy Ortiz. I mean, I listen to the Sadie Dupuis-fronted band and I hear really intelligently put together indie pop rock. The guitars are jangly, jagged, and possess angular riffing you’d hear in early Pavement, Archers of Loaf, and Sleater-Kinney. The songs are put together like puzzle pieces scattered on the floor from an early 90s indie rock sampler platter. Slacker but smart, like that guy that works at the video store that always looks tired who has a Masters degree in molecular science and eastern philosophy. It’s smart indie rock for folks that want a slight feminist lean in their flannel-covered college rock and less boys club fart jokes and frat boy hazing.
So why do I feel our of the loop here? I don’t even like fart jokes.
The newest record from the east coast indie rockers is called Twerp Verse. It’s the second attempt at a new record, as the first attempt was scrapped after the 2016 election. According to Dupuis, “The songs on the [scrapped] album that were strictly personal or lovey dovey just didn’t mean anything to me anymore.” If the election affected these new songs I would have to say it’s made them slightly more steely; more distant. There seems to be more emphasis on dissonance. With the addition of new guitarist Andy Molholt, Dupuis has found a foil in her guitar histrionics. There are lighter moments, but for the most part there’s a darker edge this time around. This is the same band that gave us Major Arcana and Foil Deer, but where their dizzying swirl of guitar rock before was impressive and fun is now more cautious and filled with a slight dread.
“Buck Me Off” starts things out on an uptempo note, complete with driving fuzzy bass and Sadie Dupuis delivering smart lyrics and buzzing guitar lines. Production duties were given to Mike Mogis(Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk), and he adds crisp sonics that give every guitar line, bass riff, and snare hit a front-and-center brightness. “Lean In When I Suffer” sounds like Veruca Salt produced by Phil Eck. “Lucky 88” has an almost Garbage sound, much slicker and shiny than anything Speedy Ortiz has done before. “Can’t you act responsibly/you’re the sick pup who created me” Dupuis sings as if condemning a parent on the wrong path. It’s a great track, and a sound they should revisit more often.
Other songs lean into deeper, darker waters. Tracks like “Can I Kiss You?” “I’m Blessed”, and “Villain” have a sinister lean. Synths go a long way to add a certain desolation in these songs. But for the most part the album is dominated more by a passing glance of disappointment at the current state of affairs, rather hovering in the doldrums the whole time. “Alone With Girls” opens dark but bits of light form once the song gets going, while “You Hate The Title” almost gets to a pure pop feel which is a nice way to end the album.
As far as scrapping an entire album and starting from scratch goes, Twerp Verse seems like a pretty solid second go at it. Speedy Ortiz still retain all the guitar quirks, Pavement-esque motifs, and intelligent lyrics that got them notice back on Major Arcana, but with their own east coast twist. Sadie Dupuis is a great songwriter and one of the best guitarists working in indie rock currently. I may not have a Masters in political science while working at a car wash, but I think I’m starting to get Speedy Ortiz. One album at a time I suppose.