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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Speedy Ortiz deliver a rallying cry on 'Foil Deer'

Erin Rice
Erin Rice

“Got a lack of woe / I’ve known you not so very long, but watch your back / Because baby’s so good with a blade,” Sadie Dupuis sings toward the end of “Good Neck,” the first track on Speedy Ortiz’s second album, “Foil Deer.” After 70 seconds of noisy, angular guitar riffs that build toward a crescendo, these three lines mark the first time Dupuis sings on the record. The lyrics serve almost as a thesis for “Foil Deer” as a whole, which is full of cryptic, often violent imagery that takes aim at gender roles and society’s expectations.

Coming out of the western Massachusetts DIY scene, Speedy Ortiz began as Dupuis’ solo project. As her music gained traction in indie rock circles, the group’s line-up came to include bassist Darl Ferm, drummer Mike Falcone and guitarist Devin McKnight (who joined after original guitarist Matt Robidoux left the band last year). Speedy Ortiz’s debut album, 2013’s “Major Arcana,” benefitted immensely from this expansion, allowing for a louder and more muscular sound without drowning out Dupuis’ lyrics.

“Foil Deer” does not deviate far from the sound of their debut, sticking to noisy ’90s indie rock influences like Pavement and Sonic Youth. The sonic evolution comes mostly in measured steps, like the synths that rise after the chorus on “The Graduates” or the drum machine and breathy R&B vocal present on “Puffer.” Despite these small forays into studio experimentation, the album largely retains the adventurous energy of Speedy Ortiz’s earlier work. The back-and-forth between McKnight and Dupuis’ dueling guitar riffs is especially electric, particularly on tracks like “Raising the Skate” and “My Dead Girl.”

Dupuis falls in a long lineage of songwriters, from Patti Smith to Kim Gordon, who fuse noisy rock music with poetry. It’s no surprise that she recently completed her M.F.A. in poetry at UMass Amherst: Her lyrics on this album abound with clever wordplay and indelible imagery that just beg to be dissected in an English class.

One of Dupuis’ lyrical concerns throughout the album is grappling with self-doubt in the face of society’s expectations. She brands herself one of the “law school rejects” and “the god of the liars” on two different songs. On “Swell Content,” Dupuis bemoans, “I have been rejected for most everything.”

Yet, these moments of fragility are offset by others where Dupuis asserts herself powerfully. She has said she’s listened to Nicki Minaj’s “The Pinkprint” more than any other album of the past five years and has frequently cited Kelis as an influence. While rap music may not be an obvious touchstone for Speedy Ortiz’s music, you can see its faint outlines in the swagger Dupuis increasingly embodies on “Foil Deer.” This manifests itself most evidently on songs in which Dupuis challenges conventional gender roles. On album highlight “Raising the Skate,” Dupuis lifts the catchphrase of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign for the year’s catchiest feminist anthem. “I’m not bossy,” she declares defiantly on the chorus, “I’m the boss.” She subverts gender norms again on “Mr. Difficult,” on which Dupuis meditates on the use of violence. “Boys be sensitive and girls be, be aggressive,” she sings in a whisper, delivering a call to arms against gender stereotypes. “So much of indie rock is white dudes, and what are they fighting against?” Dupuis told The New York Times recently. “The rallying cries and aggression have fallen to queer performers, performers of color or women to pick up that mantle.” On “Foil Deer,” Speedy Ortiz take on that mantle for a new generation of outsiders, marrying their carefully constructed noise pop arrangements with incisive lyrics and creating a masterpiece of a rallying cry. — 4.5/5 stars Tracks: “Raising the Skate,” “The Graduates” If you like: Pavement, Sonic Youth, The Breeders