Speedy Ortiz – Real Hair

[First Published at OneFourSeven, February 10 2014]

If it’s become a cliché to talk about the “Difficult Second Album” and the problems that accompany it, then the post-debut EP is getting an easy ride. Having borne the weight of universal acclaim after last year’s Major Arcana LP, Speedy Ortiz, with the eyes of critics and new fans closely following, have had to go away and make more to order. It shouldn’t be particularly surprising, then, that Real Hairdoesn’t demonstrate a significant change in the band’s trajectory. The jagged riffs and lazy urgency still prevail as the band faithfully recreate last summer in all of its hazy glory.

It’s intoxicating, too, with chorus upon chorus broken up only by shifting signatures and ADHD-based shifts in urgency.American Horror, straight out of the quiet-loud handbook, showcases Sadie Dupuis’ ability to write a sluggishly anthemic chorus, piercing through the discord whenever she sees fit. Everything’s Bigger, similarly, jumps out of the blocks with shimmering octave chords before everything starts to do battle in the shadowy, overdriven depths of the mix.

So, Real Hair is reassuringly consistent; proof, if anyone needed it, that Speedy Ortiz are no carbon copies, but rather a potent distillation of their idols’ ideals. As Major Arcanaclearly showed, though, it’s Dupuis talents as a lyricist that set the band apart from their peers and even their forbears. Though comparing the band to Pavement has become the norm for critics, the likeness is difficult to recognize when Dupuis’ words begin to penetrate. Where Steven Malkmus was sardonic and occasionally cryptic, Dupuis is relentlessly absurd, adopting personas and discarding them just as quickly. Take the superhero she becomes in Oxygal, who embraces melodrama (‘And who wants to sleep by her who death becomes’) before propping herself up with a disturbing realism (‘Sucking the mist up/ I guess it was real/ Good thing I taught you the backstroke you hate’). Or there’s the man in crisis in Everything’s Bigger who acknowledges that ‘Me, I’m just like my wife / She’s a blade and I’m a dull knife.’

The signs were there when the Sports EP made a passing reference to Varsity before diving into intensely personal tales, and they were there on Major Arcana when she showed herself to be equally adept at wilting nostalgia as introspective character-creation. Now, on Real Hair, Sadie Dupuis has finally put herself forward as one of indie rock’s most compelling and unique storytellers.

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