A few months ago, I compared Speedy Ortiz to the Elves of Mirkwood. It’s a long story. But the gist was that they were “ruthless, brash and good looking.” It’s now the time of Major Arcana, a full album of Speedy Ortiz maniacally rafting down some rapids, with meandering interludes and loud rumblings by tall weirs.
By this I mean to declare that Speedy Ortiz have created in 11 songs a perfect display of rock that picks bits of grunge, bobs from slacker rock and mixes them all with a lot of noodling, interspersed with some very loud down strokes.
Now, the easy comparison would be to go for the Slacker Golden Gods, Pavement, sure, there’s a bit of that here, but there’s also the mighty spirit of Mary Timony (of Helium), the catchiness of Veruca Salt and very earnest lyrics that appease that Liz Phair-shaped longing that my heart has since 1997. I’d venture to think some of these are their influences, but what Speedy Ortiz has is that although everyone is mapped by what surrounded them, there’s a distinctive quality that makes this band stand up in the crowd.
The lyrics. Top notch work here.
The lyrical work is quite impressive here. Self-detrimental stuff (“On my mouth is a factory for every toxic part of speech I spew” – ‘Tiger Tank’) is the main essence, but there’s some sadness that gets intertwined with a gallows humour and some right madness (“And the sicko police gave me perfect marks at the sycophantic academy” – Casper (1995)). Singer Sadie Dupuis clearly loves her poetry and the band sure makes every single word is well sequestered by bass, guitar and drums.
There’s moments that will make you yearn for your golden years, flannel and well worn cat boots. ‘Gary’ has those quiet moments, where you can almost hear them hover their feet over the distortion pedal and look at each other cheekily with a “wait fooooor it!” gaze. ‘Gary’ also has a friggin’ sweet “false end” that lets the band pummel you again with their lovely racket.
While most of the songs love to go for slow meanders, there are some pretty direct attacks here. ‘Cash cab’ is a vertiginous race through unlit highways and ‘MKVI’, the righteous closer, makes up in crescendos and atmospheres whatever it could lack in the pacing department.
If there’s the one track you will fall in love, well, it’s ‘Casper (1995)’ for this rather smitten reviewer. It might not be the loudest moment of Major Arcana, but, damn, it made me stop looking back at the 90s and look forward.
And that’s the best thing I can say about this band: appreciate your past but look forward.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López