Could the band’s fourth album also be their finest?
It’s a no-brainer to focus on lead singer, lyricist, poet, multi-instrumentalist and producer Sadie Dupuis when lauding Speedy Ortiz.
After all, she started the band in 2011 as a solo project, and without her mastery of menacing-yet-melodic hooks and her sometimes cryptic and consistently poetic way with words, the group doesn’t ascend from punk rock underdogs to Foo Fighters tour mates.
Yet it took a team effort to craft the stellar new album Rabbit Rabbit. The current lineup pairs Dupuis with returning guitarist Andy Molholt and well as two longtime touring members that’re now full-time contributors: bassist Audrey Zee Whitesides and drummer Joey Doubek. The band-as-a-sum-of-its-parts collection of songs benefits just as much from a long list of collaborators that’s topped by co-producer Sarah Tudzin of the always-brilliant Illuminati Hotties.
Artist: Speedy Ortiz
Album: Rabbit Rabbit
Label: Dead Oceans
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
As with past releases, many of Dupuis’ lyrics are vulnerable —to use an indie rock cliché— yet delivered with too much venom to ever connect as anything but empowering. Beyond deconstructing her internal struggles with “Cry Cry Cry,” she blasts everyone from those daring to cross picket lines (“Scabs”) to sketchy punks who skip town, only to fall back on old, destructive habits in a new city (“You S02”). When she’s not writing about the human condition with the microscope on herself or others, something as mundane as late-night noises in her Philadelphia neighborhood (“Kitty”) or fantastical as a straight-to-streaming murder mystery series premise (“Ranch vs Ranch”) inspires prose that’s no less arresting.
Again, this isn’t a situation where side musicians simply parrot a singer-songwriter’s lone vision. Just as the various players in Deerhunter over the years added layer upon layer by blending their own creative voices with that of Bradford Cox, the rest of Speedy Ortiz bring their own tastes and talents in a way that elevates and electrifies those of Dupuis. Few could inject more of a heavy alt-rock edge from behind the kit than Doubek does on “Ballad of Y&S” and “Ghostwriter”, while Whitesides’ bass accompaniment on “Plus One” and “Emergency & Me” make her as integral a part of the musical formula as any of the 50 guitars, 30 amps and 100-plus effects pedals utilized primarily by Dupuis and Molholt.
VIDEO: Speedy Ortiz “Plus One”
Members added to the sonic cacophony in less conventional ways, with Dupuis turning a bedpan and a motorcycle box into percussion instruments, Moholt concocting a sound effect with a debit card and Doubek incorporating everything from spoons to a shot glass and a BB-gun. It reads more like the credits for a Jamaican dub mad scientist’s most avant-garde creation than a ‘90s-inspired indie rock album. In another liner notes eye-catcher, David Catchings —a former touring member of Eagles of Death Metal and co-founder of Rancho De La Luna studio in Joshua Tree, Cal., which is where some of the album was recorded— chipped in on lap steel.
Speedy Ortiz set awfully high expectations when mathy stunner “Hitch,” the lyrically twisted “Fun” and other opening statements off 2013’s Major Arcana introduced us to the band’s mastery of mountainous riffs and compelling riddles. Sticking with what works without becoming predictable avoided a sophomore or junior slump with 2015’s Foil Deer and 2018’s Twerp Verse, respectively.
Rabbit Rabbit measures up favorably overall to prior releases and easily stands alone as the strongest group effort.