Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

It’s typically a bad omen when a band’s influences can be called out too readily. And sure enough, this problem dogs Speedy Ortiz – about half of the time. The young quartet has clearly put in quality time poring over the catalogs of 1990s alter-nation’s leading lights. Frontwoman Sadie Dupuis channels Liz Phair’s tossed-off, spoken/sung alto delivery. The band’s knotty, laconic guitar lines recall Archers of Loaf circa Vee Vee, and its noisier stoner outbursts share DNA with Dinosaur Jr, which originated down the road from Speedy Ortiz’s Northampton, Massachusetts home base. All good source material, but the first half of Major Arcana mostly piles these reference points one upon the other without offering connective tissue or distinctive melodies.

Dupuis is in the final throes of an MFA in poetry, and her lyrics are thick with wordplay (and short on rhyming couplets). She’s not nearly as sex-obsessed as Phair, nor as self-absorbed, and the lyric sheet could double as a chapter of her master’s thesis. “Vaccinate the ones you love. Anesthesia so they can’t feel you when it’s time to give ’em up,” she intones coyly on “MKVI.”

As her band gets louder Dupuis’ comparatively thin voice gets higher and cutesier, approaching Juliana Hatfield territory – surprisingly this serves as an asset in the album’s more adrenaline-fueled back half. “Fun” is a two-minute spiky blast, and “Cash Cab” wraps enough energy and structure around its guitar chaos to wash down the heady lyrics with a smile.

But Speedy Ortiz really pulls it all together for closer “MKVI,” a seven-minute quiet-loud behemoth that offers one of the album’s few traditional choruses and its one irresistible sing-along line, “I’ve got nothing/I’ve got nothing,” that Dupuis delivers with a canny blend of urgency and contempt.
Major Arcana starts out a lot like Yuck, but ends up as something pretty yummy.

Speedy Ortiz
Major Arcana