Speedy Ortiz - Real Hair - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Speedy Ortiz - Real Hair

by Ethan Ranis Rating:7.5 Release Date:2014-03-10

Last summer, I went to a Speedy Ortiz concert on a whim. A few longtime friends from out of town were visiting, and we blasted the band's recent LP, Major Arcana, on repeat while I drove around showing them the sights. When the band came on stage, my friend yelled out, "We've been listening to your album all day!" The lead singer, Sadie Dupuis, looked bemused. "Wow," she replied, perfectly deadpan. "You guys are losers."

There are several reasons this wasn't exactly an insult. First, Speedy Ortiz's music owes itself to a heritage filled with losers, freaks, and weirdos: namely, 90s alternative rock. The fuzzed-out, jangling guitars, grungy basslines, and heavy drums they utilize could just as easily be found on an early Pavement or Built to Spill record. The knotty song structures and creeping unease which lingers in the tension/release mechanics of this EP are also deeply indebted to the prime era of alternative.

Second, Speedy Ortiz's lyrics come from a place of emotional vulnerability and insecurity probably most familiar to those who could self-identify as losers. The narrator of 'Oxygal' pleads with the subject to "Be in this picture with me".  The real sting comes when Dupuis makes this a muttered pay-off: "Now we better part ways/ so nobody sees." 

The best moment on the EP, closer 'Shine Theory', is similarly open about frustrated romance: "I want to want him so bad/ but I don't recognize the charms that he has". The honesty and openness here is reminiscent of the highlight of Major Arcana, 'No Below'.

If most of this description seems like boilerplate for most 90s-influenced garage rock, that's because a lot of it is. What distinguishes Speedy Ortiz is a gift for metaphor and imagery. 'American Horror' conjures an entrapping web full of stinging bees rather than spiders. 'Oxygal' describes "someone who sleeps with her neck in reverse."  And later, there's "a robot who inflicts one shot/ then starts to wheel away despite his protocol."

There's a lot that's good here, but not terribly much that's new - this is still fundamentally in the vein of Major Arcana, and is in fact somewhat less varied, favoring the band's slower, heavier side instead of the freneticism which shook up their last LP (on tracks such as 'Cash Cab').  Additionally, the band's desire to shake up its audience with noise and structural shifts sometimes obscures the songs' hooks. This EP is consistently melodic, but the best alt-rock sticks in your brain from the first listen, and some of these tracks are too prone to fading from memory.

Real Hair is ultimately a punchy, quick interlude between Major Arcana and the next LP. There's definitely room for improvement, but it's clear that Speedy Ortiz are worth the attention they've been getting, and I've got high hopes for whatever they come up with next.

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