For Sadie Dupuis – one of slacker rock’s most thought-provoking and observant wordsmiths – the idea of taking an artistically safe route is an offensive one. The Speedy Ortiz songwriter, vocalist and guitarist initially wrote the band’s third album in 2015, but on November 8 2016, Donald Trump was elected US president and the world got a hell of a lot uglier; suddenly those self-described “lovey dovey” songs seemed insipid, almost incongruous. Making the difficult decision to scrap it, the Massachusetts four-piece went back to the drawing board.
The result is ‘Twerp Verse’, an album that’s packed with dry wit and choppy, off-kilter energy, but one that’s lyrically far better suited to a darker, post-#MeToo world. ‘Alone With Girls’ states: “Put it there, on the mouth/ Tonguing the boot/ Who is responsible here?” Things get even grimmer on the Liz Phair- channelling ‘Villian’, where under uncomfortable guitars and Darl Ferm’s bruised bass, Sadie captures the skin-crawl of unwanted male attention: “’I want to know what kind of porn you like’/He asks me these questions – did he earn the right?/ No way.” Later, ‘Lean In When I Suffer’ tackles toxic relationships and misconceptions around depression.
Of course, these aren’t new topics for Sadie, but this is the most forthright she’s ever been – and the album is all the more empowering for it, openly toying with conventions of misogyny, patriarchy and isolation. These usually weighty topics make for uneasy listening, but ‘Twerp Verse’ is easily Speedy’s most accessible release yet, basking in a glowing veneer that’s replaced the raw, alt-90’s vibe of debut ‘Major Arcana’ and 2015’s ‘Foil Deer’. It’s a change in tone that could be attributed to Sadie’s 2016 solo album ‘Slugger’, a shimmering pop affair that eschewed gnarled Breeders-esque riffs for sparkling synths and spun-sugar choruses: that influence has seeped clearly into single ‘Lucky 88’, coating choppy bass and vibrant synths with a glassy, glistening overlay.
Some fans will undoubtedly pine for the Pavement-inspired wonk-fests of the band’s early work, but listen closely to the tumbling riffs of ‘Sport Death’ or ‘I’m Blessed’, where guitars stumble sideways like a drunken crab, and it’s clear that the peculiarities of vintage Speedy are still simmering under the surface. While the band attempt to make sense of a turbulent modern world, they’re just feeling more playful than ever.
Words: Dannii Leivers