Album Review: Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

You know, I try to be “with it”, and “in the know”.  I want to be “up to date” on all the relevant music of today. Even as a kid in short pants growing up in rural Hoosierville I was always buying cassettes at my local record store. If there was some new band everyone was talking about you could be sure I had that in my cassette deck. Granted, being the age I was and my geographical location most of these cassettes were of the hair metal variety. It was 1984 kids. And it was Northeast Indiana. I wasn’t listening to R.E.M., Husker Du, The Cure, and Echo and the Bunnymen…not yet, anyways. So as a grown up I’m still trying to keep up on all the relevant indie rock coming down the pike. The early 90s indie rock scene has been raped and pillaged over the last couple years rather dramatically. Some of these revivals have been rather impressive(Yuck, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Parquet Courts), while others have not(Tribes, anyone?). Speedy Ortiz is here to show us their own brand of Pavement dance moves and Nada Surf mope. They seem to have all the right moves. All the off-kilter rhythms and interesting guitar lines are there, and with lead singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ smart lyrics and biting storytelling they seem to have everything they need to win those jaded indie rock oldsters(old hipsters) approval and love.

I’ll just say this right off the bat, there’s more Polvo love than Pavement going on here. First off, they’re too good of musicians to be Pavement disciples. Pavement were sloppy, stoned, and completely oblivious, which is what made them so good. Speedy Ortiz are much more meticulous in their songwriting and structure. Tracks like “Pioneer Spine”, “Tiger Tank”, and “Casper(1995)” owe a greater debt to albums like Cor-Crane Secret and Without A Sound than they do to Slanted & Enchanted and Bakesale. Dupuis writes lyrics that are more pointed and direct than Malkmus and Barlow as well. She sounds like a less stoned and more world weary Liz Phair. Midway through the album the band hits a three-in-a-row winning streak with “No Below”, “Gary”, and “Fun” where the band puts down the intricacies and noodling guitar lines for earnestness, melody, and even some emoting in Sadie Dupuis’ vocals. Great songwriting and storytelling. “Gary” sounds like Pavement once the THC clouds settled and Malkmus decided he was serious about this songwriting thing. Midway through the song explodes into a fuzzed-out wall and things get beautifully noisy. “Fun” is short and sweet. “Criminally twisted, puny little villian”, Dupuis sings over a quick pace and a jangly guitar that blows up into a Polvo-like crush before the song ends as it started. “MKVI” ends the album with seven minutes of foreboding guitar noise and a rhythm that plods along. It’s a more of a statement than a final song.

If you’re like me, you tend to just listen to the those indie rock staples of the 90s -Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Polvo, Sebadoh- as opposed to looking for that fix in current bands with folks in their mid-twenties. Maybe because it makes me feel a hell of a lot older when I’m hearing “kids” playing the music of my early 20s. But if you must listen to current bands reviving the golden years of slacker rock, then Speedy Ortiz will treat you right. Major Arcana is a solid listen.

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