Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer
Speedy Ortiz said they would get the flowers themselves. What a lark! What a plunge!
When considering Massachusetts’ Speedy Ortiz, that line from Virginia Woolf comes to mind. Not only for the obvious echoes to DIY, a form and function that’s characterized the band’s nascency, but in the proto-feminist undertones driving much of their sophomore album, Foil Deer. “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss,” Sadie Dupuis sings on “Raising the Skate,” invoking in spirit one half of the Carter-Knowles clan and echoing the other’s wordplay. And wordplay makes sense, considering Dupuis—the band’s songwriter, guitarist, and frontwoman—spent the band’s first few years teaching writing at UMass Amherst. She’s drawn to the dense complexity of Pynchon, the dreamlike geometry of Bolaño, the confounded yearning of Plath—all attributes you could easily apply to the band’s 2013 debut Major Arcana, which fans and press alike have invested with a sense of purpose and merit uncommon in contemporary guitar rock.
The group, including Mike Falcone on drums, Darl Ferm on bass, and new addition Devin McKnight of Grass is Green on guitar, have spent the last year on an almost endless cross-continental touring jag, tagging along with the likes of The Breeders, Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, and Thurston Moore. That shift into full-time musicianship brought with it an attendant reordering of priorities when it came to songwriting, and the band members’ lives in general. They would get the damn flowers themselves.
Dupuis wrote much of Foil Deer at her mother’s home in the Connecticut woods, where the songwriter imposed a self-regulated exile and physical cleansing of sorts, finding that many of the songs came to her while running or swimming alone. “I gave up wasting mental energy on people who didn’t have my back,” she says. “Listening to our old records, I get the sense I was putting myself in horrible situations just to write sad songs. This music isn’t coming from a dark place, and without slipping into self-empowerment jargon, it feels stronger.” Many of the songs deal with a similar sense of starting over, editing out the unnecessary drama. “Boys be sensitive and girls be, be aggressive,” she sings on “Mister Difficult.”
And while their debut album was recorded on the fly, Speedy Ortiz spent almost a month in the studio on Foil Deer. Falcone’s drums are taut, mechanistic; Ferm’s bass ranges from the aggressive rattle of an AmRep classic to smoother, hip-hop inspired lines. McKnight, meanwhile, lends spacier, textural riffs to complement Dupuis’ wiry, melody-driven guitar style. “The demos for our songs have always had tons of small details and production experimentation, but we never had any money to pay for more than a couple days in the studio, so the songs came out very live-sounding and guitar heavy,” Dupuis says. It was recorded and mixed at Brooklyn’s Rare Book Room with Nicolas Vernhes (Silver Jews, Enon, Deerhunter), with the record mastered by Emily Lazar (Sia, Haim, Beauty Pill), lending a more polished sound and a pop sensibility that will stand out to existing fans and new converts alike. For all the lyrical complexity and guitar-based excursions Speedy Ortiz have built their reputation on to this point, Foil Deer has a sense of light-footed fun. What’s the point of doing things yourself if you’re not going to enjoy the trip?
Speedy Ortiz has established itself as one of this decade’s most vibrant bands since their 2012 debut EP Sports. That EP introduced listeners to the band’s constant study of contrasts, with vocalist and guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ gnarled riffs acting as both counterpoint to and bolsterer of her acerbic, conversational poetry. 2013’s Major Arcana went further, the members’ reflexive chemistry inspiring them to push the limits of their sound; propelled by the rhythm section of Darl Ferm (bass) and Michael Falcone (drums), their first full-length chugged along with a swaggering gusto that could command a sweaty Boston basement as easily as a festival stage, leading to touring with legends of the “alternative” boom like The Breeders, Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium) and Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. 2015’s Foil Deer added headphone-ready detailing to the already clamorous mix, with worldwide headlining dates on which they were supported by modern-day best-new-music makers like Mitski, Alex G, and Downtown Boys. Their no-nonsense approach to progress, as evidenced by initiatives like their first of its kind in-concert “help hotline,” and Dupuis’ tackling of issues like bystander intervention and inclusivity in the music industry—in her lyrics, and as a frequent panelist and speaker—makes the band poised to surge into the future.
Twerp Verse, Speedy’s third album and first with Philadelphian Andy Molholt (Laser Background) on second guitar, is urgent and taut, adding surprising textures like Linn drums and whirled guitar processing to their off-kilter hooks. Dupuis, whose electropop solo project Sad13 debuted in 2016 shortly after her own move to Philadelphia, has become more instinctive in her songwriting—her home-recorded demos mirror Twerp Verse‘s songs in a closer way than any other Speedy record—while her lyrics have become more pointedly witty. The band’s camaraderie and crate-digging is evident, with diffuse reference points like Squeeze, Hop Along, Prince, Paramore, and Brenda Lee being sucked into the band’s chaos. Even when Dupuis sings of alienation and political weariness, the pop maelstrom swirling around her provides a defiantly charged, mussed-but-hooky optimism.
Photos by Shervin Lainez:
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Illustration by Michael DeForge:
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• North American Publicity by Girlie Action Media
• U.K. Publicity by Yes Please
• Comm Spec + College Radio Promotion by Terrorbird
• U.K. Radio by Brace Yourself
• 2015 festival dates including Shaky Knees and Forecastle
• Extensive Spring 2015 North American tour
Limited Edition LP: 677517010343
1. Good Neck
2. Raising the Skate
3. The Graduates
4. Dot X
7. Swell Content
9. My Dead Girl
11. Mister Difficult
12. Dvrk Wvrld