Speedy Ortiz Major Arcana

Released July 9, 2013, via Carpark Records

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]peedy Ortiz’s eagerly awaited full-length debut succeeds by every metric relevant to its somewhat unconventional, downer guitar-pop. But Major Arcana’s biggest success may be that people are finally listening to fronter Sadie DuPuis and her cohort, rather than just engaging in another round of maddeningly reductive comparisons to ’90s indie bands.

It’s wrong to say that Speedy Ortiz’ cacophonous yet carefully crafted tunes aren’t extraordinary based on how they sound; that flies in the face of what music is. However, it is an even greater wrong to say (or imply by omission) that the Western Mass.-based quartet’s music is remarkable only because of who they sound like. And in this respect we feel Speedy Ortiz have been particularly aggrieved. With certain exceptions (Liz Pelly’s 2012 Boston Phoenix profile and a recent NPR piece immediately come to mind), Speedy Ortiz’s gift for songwriting, arranging, and straight-up chops have been overlooked in the rush to make the same boring-ass lay-up over and over: “Speedy Ortiz sound like Notable Female ’90s Indie Rock Singer A fronting Notable ’90s Indie Rock Band B.”

What few have bothered to tell you, and what makes Speedy Ortiz a brilliant rock combo, is as follows: its guitars and bass largely operate independently of one another, guiding distinct, unexpected melody lines in rhythmic parallel, resulting in verses that creak and slither in an appealing manner. A steady tug-of-war between melody and dissonance in songs like the fiery “Plough” (whose high vocal hook about “freaking the fuck out” everyone will be singing for months) provides a tension that is another significant dimension of Speedy Ortiz’s songwriting. At the same time, the band explicitly respects the importance of dynamics: beyond the conventional loud-soft changes are impressively shaded increments. This is the case in the various passages of the wandering rocker “Casper (1995),” which brilliantly abuts Speedy’s self-described “lil sad dude,” the waltzing ballad “No Below.” That song has been a charmer in Speedy’s live repertoire this year, and the recording, featuring Ms. DuPuis’ poignant singing and the measured application of mournful feedback and vocal harmonies, is even more affecting.

All of these elements align at key intervals across Major Arcana’s 10 songs, including the pounding opener “Tiger Tent,” to blast through acidic, exercised refrains. The record closes with the shuddering “MKVI,” whose wiry guitar line suggests the opening of Black Flag’s classic “Life Of Pain,” and whose denouement is two minutes of bashing and feedback during which one can imagine the quartet laying waste to a stage in, yes… fine… classic punk style.

While contemporary indie rock and its fans typically shrug off penetrative examination — as the existence of significant “reader”-ships driving hits to listicle-churning publications attests — the creation of a social history occurs whether or not its participants are thinking about it more than they are about, say, burritos. Even so, it is hard not to see Major Arcana as the crest of a wave that began to swell in Massachusetts last fall with the release of Pile’s dark howler Dripping. Successive impressive efforts from peers Fat History Month, Young Adults, Krill, Ovlov and others drew acclaim and brought increasing interest to the Commonwealth’s indie noises. But Speedy’s whipsmart new collection of bummercore is likely to be remembered as the one to push Bay State indie rock past a tipping point and into, um, some sort of grander something else. To which we imagine Speedy and all of the above would nod respectfully for a moment, before saying, “fuck this, guys, seriously, can we get burritos?”

SPEEDY ORTIZ + GRASS IS GREEN + KAL MARKS + THE VEGANS | Saturday, July 6 at Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave., Allston | 9pm, 21-plus, $7 | advance tickets | facebook event page

UPDATE: SPEEDY ORTIZ SUMMER TOUR 2013

07/09 – Hudson, NY @ The Half Moon Pub w/ Tongue Oven, Underground River
07/10 – Cleveland, OH @ Happy Dog w/ Ma Holos, Johnny Ill, Shale Satans
07/11 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick w/ Destroy This Place, Esper, Bars of Gold
07/12 – Kalamazoo, MI @ Milhouse w/ Boring People, Shark Beach, Crash City Saints
07/13 – Chicago, IL @ Coach House w/ Geronimo!, Shores, Cattle Drums, My Dad
07/14 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cause Bar w/ Buildings, Shores, Deleter
07/15 – St. Louis, MO @ Blank Space w/ Spelling Bee, Huntronik
07/16 – Kansas City, MO @ Czar Bar w/ Schwervon!, Lazy
07/17 – Omaha, NE @ The West Wing w/ Places We Slept, Eric In Outerspace
07/18 – Denver, CO @ UMS Festival
07/19 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Salt Haus
07/20 – Boise, ID @ The Red Room w/ Desert Noises, Old Age
07/21 – Portland, OR @ Habesha
07/22 – Olympia, WA @ Hot Tub House
07/23 – Seattle, WA @ The Comet w/ Medicine Bows, Fruiting Bodies
07/25 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill w/ Wild Moth, GRMLN
07/26 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Bar w/ The Shilohs, Tashaki Miyaki
07/28 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar w/ Supermodel Razorblades, Tworooms
07/29 – Phoenix, AZ @ Last Exit Live
07/31 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Conservatory w/ Sonic Violence, Anti-Patterns
08/01 – Denton, TX @ J&J’s Pizza w/ Cat People
08/02 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
08/04 – New Orleans, LA @ Circle Bar
08/05 – Birmingham, AL @ The Forge
08/06 – Atlanta, GA @ 529 w/ Concord America
08/07 – Athens, GA @ Farm 255
08/08 – Charlotte, NC @ The Milestone w/ Bo White Y Su Orquesta, Little Bull Lee
08/09 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook w/ Blanko Basnet, Organos
08/10 ­– Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter w/ Sundials
08/11 – Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong w/ Two Inch Astronaut
08/12 – Baltimore, MD @ Metro Gallery w/ Roomrunner, Hive Bent
08/13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Golden Tea House w/ Bleeding Rainbow, Ghost Light, Hurry

 

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