Sunday, April 5, 2015

Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz - A Dour, Messy, Depressive, Stunning Debut

originally published July, 10th 2013

Major Arcana, the debut full length album from Speedy Ortiz contain songs that are oftentimes shrouded in a kind of dour haze, a musical and emotional ennui stewing in heavy grungy guitar sounds in that Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Pavement sort of way but what elevates these compositions are the way the songs veer off (at a moments notice) into progressive lead lines that feel twisted in that Frank Zappian sort of way. This fusion of proto punk and post rock grunge work because the musicality is top notch as is the songwriting itself.

Speedy Ortiz's musical and emotion voice is that of Sadie Dupuis. Her vocal performance holds a lot of things, It is bittersweet. Beautiful and scarred at the same time, the lyrics, delivered with a hard undercurrent, are poetic code that is sometimes hard to decipher but the tone and feeling is not. In Tiger Tank Dupuis sings "oh my mouth is a factory for every toxic part of speech I spew" and she does navigate rough waters in many of these songs which may or may not have to do with life's battles with toxic people, with depression and the curiosity of what life is all about.

The music, the tone is not for the faint of heart. In Gary the guitars jigsaw puzzle so wonderfully. They are composed of puzzle pieces that don't fit and the song builds into emotional and sonic turmoil. The lyrics feel as vague as they do existential, "once you've sat with kids, it's so hard to leave their table... for the kids full grown and my, I've grown some very big teeth." Fun churns out so much post punk fun. It made me think of Chelsea Light Moving (more than Sonic Youth) and in some way The Pretenders but it is it's very own pulse pounder.

In a 2012 Youtube video Sadie plays an acoustic rendition of "Um Are" and apologizes (in advance) for it being "sappy" and I bring this up because she seems to feel more comfortable swimming in the uncomfortable and even hurtful part of life. I wonder if these superb songs are her catharsis. I know I need to hear, feel, songs that are born out of pain. Songs that feel sad in a way. I doubt she would apologize for the heart wrenching beauty of No Below. The first time I heard the song it slapped me across the face and punched me in the stomach. It, for me, veered into Aimee Mann territory a bit (whom I love as well). Speedy Ortiz's ability to mine this kind of song shows their brilliance. Sonically and lyrically it tells a story that you feel deep inside. It feels like an ode to the pains of childhood, of hard times at school. It is one of Major Arcana's high points.

Casper is creepily charming. It uses the dissonant guitar work superbly bending the tone like a carnival mirror. The song conjures up a strange dream theater and again, the musicality exhibited is so top notch. Plough feels at home in an underground club or garage, feels messy but is as tight as hell. In a way, it also feels like one of the most accessible songs production wise.

Major Arcana is a stunning debut from a band that will be around a long time. Purchase and cherish this record.

Release Date July, 9th 2013 on Carpark records.
Robb Donker

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