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Review: Speedy Ortiz Put The Punk-Rock Back Into Boston

A wise man once told me “it’s hard to start a scene in a city where you can’t buy beer after 11.” he was referring, of course, to the city of Boston. Well, it seems someone forgot to tell Speedy Ortiz about municipal liquor laws, as they are at the forefront of a burgeoning new indie punk scene coming out of Bean Town. After a series of promising EPs, Speedy Ortiz makes their official debut with Major Arcana, as assured and enjoyable a debut as I’ve heard in quite some time.

Fronted with vicious intensity by Sadie Dupuis, Speedy Ortiz play a blend of darkly melodic indie rock. The drums have an inebriated lurch on “Pioneer Spine,” but it’s Sadie’s great vocals and lyrics that stick with you. The band paints an intense spiral of just barely melodic thrash on “Tiger Tank,” as our narrator says a doomed goodbye to a partner as they share a (maybe not) metaphorical piece of colosseum theatre.

The album reaches it’s apex with the divine “No Below,” possibly my favorite song of the year so far. Sadie drops into the character of a young woman reminiscing about being a neglected girl. While down tempo and sleek, it’s far from a depressive lament. Rather, the narrator comes to a position of feeling alive and full in the company of someone new. As a hideously gorgeous solo fades out she laughs off the past trauma as a lead up to this one fulfilling moment.

There’s a a brash, assured ferocity to the record, and a lot of credit to that has to go to the excellent recording and mastering work. Respecting the quite/loud dynamic that makes classic indie rock so great, the album just kicks, assuming you know how to use a volume knob and decent headphones on your iPod. There’s a feeling of catching an unbelievably tight band in a shaggy, loose take. No matter how serious the song, everyone sounds like they had a great time playing on these tracks.

Now, when I say indie rock I don’t mean “indie” and whatever late night dorm room rambling goes along with that definition. By indie rock, I mean that gnarly love child of punk and alternative that bubbled over in the early-mid ’90s. Aping Pavement while playing Weezer has been popular pretty much since the first time that happened, but there is a personality to Speedy Ortiz that is instantly arresting. There are a lot of bands that can write sludgy throwbacks to soundtrack the parties of still hip aging Gen-Xers. Try that with Major Arcana and the people who don’t retreat to the kitchen will ask you to turn it up, they’ll want to hear what this band has to say.

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