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Review: Speedy Ortiz Refuse to Stand in Place on the Jagged-Riffed ‘Foil Deer’

7
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Label: Carpark

On Speedy Ortiz’s new album, Foil Deer, frontwoman Sadie Dupuis doesn’t set the world on fire — she’s the type to write characters who light a cigarette only to spit on it and snuff it out for good measure. The resoundingly articulate mouthpiece for the Northampton, Massachusetts band released Speedy Ortiz’s first scuzzy nuggets as a solo project in 2011, and throughout her full band’s subsequent releases (2013’s Major Arcana and last year’s Real Hair EP), she’s maintained that arresting slow-fi burn: “I was the best at being second place,” she deadpans on their latest, via the smoldering, near-Nirvana tribute “The Graduates.” But even though Speedy’s proper sophomore effort draws from the same grungy Berkshires well that fed like-minded predecessors Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, Dupuis and Co. brighten the corners with lighter lyrics and cleaner production value.

That shift is also probably due to the singer-guitarist’s regimen while making the record, which revolved around running and swimming in the Connecticut semi-wilds to clear her mind and body of negative situations that plagued their fulminating debut album — namely (according to an interview with Pitchfork) relationships with her ex-guitarist Matt Robidoux and an ex-boyfriend.

“Everybody’s getting wasted / I just pick my teeth, lurking in the shadows of the party lights,” she observes on the temperamental “Ginger,” which lurches almost drunkenly from stiff-legged riffs to Dupuis’ signature off-kilter melodies, redolent of Liz Phair’s flat inflection. So much time spent by herself writing the album — Foil Deer was assembled over the course of a month, unlike Arcana, which was recorded in four days — has also emboldened the already assertive singer, who declares, “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss” over a squealing gargle of guitars on “Raising the Skate.”

Dupuis, guitarist Devin McKnight (who replaced Robidoux last year), bassist Darl Ferm, and drummer Mike Falcone earn their poppier chops on Foil Deer from mastering engineer Emily Lazar, nominated for a Grammy most recently for Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear. Speedy already started moving away from their noisier grassroots with Real Hair, foregrounding Dupuis’ scathing missives like “It’s only old boys reserve the room / And it’s only oxygal gets the key,” as opposed to burying them with vocal effects or full-band feedback. They venture further afield on “Swell Content,” a mid-album slap of jingle-jangle guitars that’s almost unrecognizable as something that could have grown from one of their earliest releases, the sardonic rampage dubbed “Taylor Swift.”

Winging away from Major Arcana’s dark, tense pockets — the jagged, crackling riffs and the jarring way Dupuis’ voice faltered at the end of her desperately insightful verses, as if she were about to fall off a cliff — stretches Speedy Ortiz thin at times on Foil Deer. But Dupuis doesn’t care. She responds the question she poses on ominous interlude “Dot X”: “Wanna stand in place like a foil deer?” Her answer is a resounding no.