Reviewed by: Max Miller
Approximately a kajillion bands are currently mining the varied sounds of ‘90s college rock groups. Some have inherited Slint’s penchant for dynamics, while others craft power-pop earworms in the same vein as Superchunk and Throwing Muses. Some even take the route of Archers of Loaf or Rodan and craft mathy freakouts. Many of these bands are good at what they do; even more are entirely derivative. Yet, occasionally, a band comes along that not only fuses all of these sub-categories, but does so in a wholly unique manner, while throwing in some new spices along the way. Speedy Ortiz is one of those bands.
The Massachusetts quartet attracted due attention with the spindly guitar lines and stuttering drums of their 2013 debut full-length Major Arcana. Their follow-up, Foil Deer, seeks to expand their sound with tinges of R&B and (*gasp*) radio pop. Songwriter/singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis has always been the group’s ace in the hole, and she drops lyrical gems all over this album, such as the much-lauded “I’m not bossy — I’m the boss” chorus from “Raising the Skate.” Perhaps even more importantly, she has begun layering more vocal harmonies over her finest hooks, giving songs like “My Dead Girl” and, especially, the groovy, minimalistic “Puffer” an added pop sensibility.
Sometimes, though, on cuts like “The Graduates” or “Swell Content”, the band feels like they’re retreading Major Arcana’s tried-and-true formula. Thus, while “Dot X” or “Mister Difficult” pleasantly exhibit Dupuis’ serpentine melodies or ex-Grass Is Green guitarist Mike Falcone’s unpredictable licks, Foil Deer comes off feeling like merely a stepping stone toward a future where Speedy Ortiz’s retro-rock baggage can be shed fully and the blend of influences more properly ensured.