Speedy Ortiz- Major Arcana

Speedy-Ortiz-Major-ArcanaYou know, I try to be “with it”, and “in the know”.  I want to be “up to date” on all the relevant music of today. Even as a kid in short pants growing up in rural Hoosierville I was always buying cassettes at my local record store. If there was some new band everyone was talking about you could be sure I had that in my cassette deck. Granted, being the age I was and my geographical location most of these cassettes were of the hair metal variety. It was 1984 kids. And it was Northeast Indiana. I wasn’t listening to R.E.M., Husker Du, The Cure, and Echo and the Bunnymen…not yet, anyways. So as a grown up I’m still trying to keep up on all the relevant indie rock coming down the pike. The early 90s indie rock scene has been raped and pillaged over the last couple years rather dramatically. Some of these revivals have been rather impressive(Yuck, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Parquet Courts), while others have not(Tribes, anyone?). Speedy Ortiz is here to show us their own brand of Pavement dance moves and Nada Surf mope. They seem to have all the right moves. All the off-kilter rhythms and interesting guitar lines are there, and with lead singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ smart lyrics and biting storytelling they seem to have everything they need to win those jaded indie rock oldsters(old hipsters) approval and love.

I’ll just say this right off the bat, there’s more Polvo love than Pavement going on here. First off, they’re too good of musicians to be Pavement disciples. Pavement were sloppy, stoned, and completely oblivious, which is what made them so good. Speedy Ortiz are much more meticulous in their songwriting and structure. Tracks like “Pioneer Spine”, “Tiger Tank”, and “Casper(1995)” owe a greater debt to albums like Cor-Crane Secret and Without A Sound than they do to Slanted & Enchanted and Bakesale. Dupuis writes lyrics that are more pointed and direct than Malkmus and Barlow as well. She sounds like a less stoned and more world weary Liz Phair. Midway through the album the band hits a three-in-a-row winning streak with “No Below”, “Gary”, and “Fun” where the band puts down the intricacies and noodling guitar lines for earnestness, melody, and even some emoting in Sadie Dupuis’ vocals. Great songwriting and storytelling. “Gary” sounds like Pavement once the THC clouds settled and Malkmus decided he was serious about this songwriting thing. Midway through the song explodes into a fuzzed-out wall and things get beautifully noisy. “Fun” is short and sweet. “Criminally twisted, puny little villian”, Dupuis sings over a quick pace and a jangly guitar that blows up into a Polvo-like crush before the song ends as it started. “MKVI” ends the album with seven minutes of foreboding guitar noise and a rhythm that plods along. It’s a more of a statement than a final song.

If you’re like me, you tend to just listen to the those indie rock staples of the 90s -Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Polvo, Sebadoh- as opposed to looking for that fix in current bands with folks in their mid-twenties. Maybe because it makes me feel a hell of a lot older when I’m hearing “kids” playing the music of my early 20s. But if you must listen to current bands reviving the golden years of slacker rock, then Speedy Ortiz will treat you right. Major Arcana is a solid listen.

7.5 out of 10


4 Replies to “Speedy Ortiz- Major Arcana”

  1. Is this more like love or more like indifference? Your opinion clearly falls in between. I ask because, in a few quick listens, I can’t decide whether to dive in it just head for the poolside bar and the Jimmy Buffet cover band. They really seem like they should be awesome but I can’t yet hear it myself. Am I missing something?


    1. I suppose it’s more indifference, but I like to say it’s me being objective. It’s an objective review. They have all the right moves, are quirky enough not to sound like any of their peers per say, have definite talent…yet, I wouldn’t listen to them regulary, or semi-regularly. But as a review, I feel there’s merit in what they’re doing. And if you’re a big fan of Pavement, Polvo, and Sebadoh, you might find something you really like and can latch on to. Me? I’d rather just listen to Pavement, Polvo, and Sebadoh. Speedy Ortiz could be a great gateway to the originators.

      I’d read an interview with the band where they put the mouth on Yuck and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, two bands that are mining 90s indie rock that I rather like. Them mouthing about those bands seemed to be a little of the pot calling the kettle Dinosaur Jr. They definitely lost a few points with me after that interview.


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