“The year is 3015. It has been one thousand years since the release of ‘Foil Deer’ by Speedy Ortiz,” begins the Michael DeForge-penned comic that accompanied the announcement of the second album by the Allston (formerly Northampton) punk rockers. It continues: “Now ‘Foil Deer’ by Speedy Ortiz is everywhere—in our nasal implants, in our tap water, in the disembodied voices of our dead relatives, in our pets.” Why does DeForge suggest the album will gain such significance? “It represents a crucial key to our ancient past—when mankind was loving, cruel, exuberant…covered in skin and easily hurt.” High praise certainly, but not undeservedly so. Speedy Ortiz’s latest is a stunning, vitalizing release—a powerful album about wounding and being wounded, healing, and surviving.
Speedy Ortiz started in 2011 as the solo project of Sadie Dupuis, the band’s current lead singer and lyricist. Dupuis, who is a tremendous lyricist and vocalist, imbues her group’s songs have thorny and complicated lyrics that pair compellingly with their dense, blistering sound. Dupuis’s project quickly grew into a group and that released its debut album, “Major Arcana,” in 2013. Since their incredible debut, they have replaced their guitarist—Devin McKnight is a compelling addition—and released an EP. Their latest album, “Foil Deer,” is an exciting intensification, amplification, and expansion of their previous sound.
“Foil Deer” opens with a minute of a heavy guitar riff laid over squalls, squeals, and general clatter. Dupuis’s voice emerges in the last 30 seconds of the track (“Good Neck”), singing sweetly if threateningly: “Watch your back / because baby’s so good with a blade.” It is a harrowing beginning to a searing album. Part of what makes the album so hair-raising is Dupuis’s fascination with the darker elements. Speedy Ortiz’s songs often have macabre lyrics and a wonderfully churning, snarling sound to match. On “Dot X,” Dupuis sings over an abrasive guitar line: “Don’t ever touch my blade you fool / you’ll be cursed for a lifetime.” Elsewhere, she approaches the subject with more humor. On “My Dead Girl,” a stunning track, she describes herself as having a “brain like a sphinx / But got nails like a prom queen.” This is familiar territory for the band—on “Plough,” from “Major Arcana,” Dupuis sang of a former lover, “You picked a virgin over me,” with a hellish, curse-like intensity.
Dupuis seems interested more generally in those at the borders and boundaries of society. In “The Graduates,” she sings fondly of high-school slackers: “We were the French club dropouts / But we never got excused from class.” The song is about the painful entrance into adulthood of these disaffected and alienated youth—the “French club dropouts” become “law school rejects.” With an aching intensity, Dupuis sings, “I was the best at being second place / But now I'm just the runner-up / At being the second one you think of every day / Before you go back to one.” It is an evocative and deeply affecting listen.
It is in these margins that Dupuis finds a central energy and power. We live in a dark world—or “Dvrk Wvrld,” as the last track is titled—she seems to be acknowledging, a place that can be cruel, wounding, and demeaning both personally and systematically. On this album in particular she explores societal inequalities. It is through engagement with the margins, with boundaries, with liminal, murkier energies that the album gains power. Sometimes her lyrics come off as merely lumpish jingles of empowerment—on “Raising the Skate” she sings “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss”—but with her punkish verve and her earthy grit, she manages to make them seem vital and necessary nonetheless. More frequently, the lyrics themselves are genius—on “Mister Difficult” she sings, “Boys be sensitive and girls be, be aggressive,” and it is a stunning, essential rallying cry. While Speedy Ortiz’s music won’t likely stay relevant for an entire millenium, the group has created the sort of powerful and transformative music that should be welcome in nasal implants and tap water.
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