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The Present Reaching into the Past – “Foil Deer” by Speedy Ortiz

Speedy Ortiz
Foil Deer
Carpark Records

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When writing about a band like Speedy Ortiz, one wonders how many words go by before the decade of the 1990’s is brought up. In this case, it’s 21. As this Massachusetts act has the same stop-start-go structures as The Pixies and the swoony, almost hummed vocals of The Breeders, they take certain staples of those bands and turn them into a shaken-up grab bag of elements, making it relevant rather than reductive.

On the band’s second full-length Foil Deer, the lyrics of the second song, “Raising the Skate”, show that singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis takes her frontwoman position with more of a straight face than some of her forebears, and we’re talking both The Breeders and The Pixies, who’s humorous lyrics were clever and striking, but Ortiz more often than not has something slightly more important to say.

Take “Raising the Skate.” Dupuis sings “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss (…) I’m Chief, not the overthrown/ Captain not a crony/ So if you wanna row, you better have an awfully big boat.” In an interview with Fader Magazine, Dupuis stated these lyrics are about: “Women, and girls, myself included, put in positions in which they have to shirk credit for their talent or otherwise risk getting dissed as overbearing and bitchy.”

This authoritative, feminist slant runs throughout the whole album. It’s a good thing, too, because while musically they are a formidable band, the audio mix of Dupuis’s voice at the forefront at the right given moment makes them one of the more lyrically inventive bands of the present day. Dupuis has this rich, literary slant to her lyrics, and they are delivered in a melodic form of sing-speak.  This makes the lyrics easier to hear, and thus, all the more poignant.


[photo via Carpark Records]

The actual music on Foil Deer, however, comes on like the quiet build up to a sudden earthquake, with the aftershocks following.  On such songs as “Puffer” and “Swell Content,” which happen to be the point where the album starts to kick into high gear, the tempo goes through many different phases. It’s like the band has a multitude of various ideas for a single song, and somehow, some way they condense it all into a few minutes with a sense of organic flow. Dupuis is not at center stage all the time in these more chaotic moments, but the music moves with such force you won’t care.

In short, Speedy Ortiz seem more artfully rendered and grandly structured than the acts they remind us of.  And they hit with more force, as well. There is, however, the occasional tradeoff:  their songs don’t follow traditional structures, thus there is no definitive emotional or instrumental crescendo,  they just…kind of..end.  And while their music is volatile, the hooks they’re aiming for seem more of an afterthought. In the end, while I love it in many ways while it’s playing, afterwards nothing’s really stuck with me and I’m not driven to play it again right away.

That said, it’s also true that words can’t describe how happy I am that of all the many examples of 1990’s music Speedy Ortiz could have opted for they didn’t lean toward nu-metal. Thank god for that, as truly my head will surely explode should that particular element of the 90’s come up for revival. Phew!

[Foil Deer available here, and check out “Puffer” below]–Wo_w