On their full-length debut, Speedy Ortiz — a Massachusetts four-piece that counts both the indie-friendly Northampton music community and Allston’s fertile basement scene as home — nod toward plenty of beloved ’90s acts: Pavement, Helium, Polvo and Archers Of Loaf, to name a few. But dismissing the band as merely nostalgia-obsessed is an insult to Major Arcana‘s fresh take on noisy, off-balance guitar rock. The band has an ear for texture: Plumes of distortion shroud the grungy “Tiger Tank”; unsettled strums shimmer and murmur beneath the surface of “Pioneer Spine” and “Casper (1995)”; needling melodies slice through “Plough”; and the taut “Fun” has sinewy post-punk velocity. On the raucous, Liz Phair-reminiscent “Cash Cab,” Sadie Dupuis’s vocals are cracked and disfigured, drowned out by slow-churning riffs, while Darl Ferm’s hulking bass emerges occasionally to add heft.
As Speedy Ortiz’s lyricist, Dupuis doesn’t sugarcoat her words; like White Lung’s Mish Way, she employs vivid, macabre imagery (“My mouth is a factory for every toxic part of speech I spew,” “Windows sweating blood, choking in on cue”) and elegant, dense wordplay to great effect. In these tiny bursts of fury, Dupuis addresses the failures and shortcomings of past relationships; then, just as forcefully, she confronts her own vulnerability and describes how such formative experiences have only made her stronger. Powerful (and empowering) by themselves, these sentiments are only magnified when paired with Major Arcana‘s gritty textures and ferocious guitar. Apathy might have been a byword for the ’90s slacker-rock bands that inspire them, but to Speedy Ortiz, apathy is a fate worse than death.