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Speedy Ortiz - The Death of Speedy Ortiz / Taylor Swift b/w Swim Fan / Sports EP

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Artist: Speedy Ortiz

Album: The Death of Speedy Ortiz / Taylor Swift b/w Swim Fan / Sports EP

Label: Exploding in Sound

Review date: Feb. 15, 2013

Speedy Ortiz - “Taylor Swift”

Speedy Ortiz is the Western Mass-based alter-ego of Sadie Dupuis, a sometime rock-in-roll-camp-counselor, poetry student and songwriter who harks back to the ragged, heavily distorted, pre-grunge guitar pop of the 1990s, not just female-centric bands like Belly, Throwing Muses and the Breeders, but also mixed and decidedly male ones — Pixies, Chavez and Polvo.

Dupuis, who used to be in a band called KC Quilty, has gradually built Speedy Ortiz from a one-woman bedroom (or camp cabin, in this case) home recording project into a full-blooded band. The Death of Speedy Ortiz, recorded in 2011, had just Dupuis playing guitar, drums, bass, piano, banjo and cello. The Taylor Swift single and the Sports EP bring together Northampton-area musicians Mike Falcone (ex-Ovlov) on drums, Darl Ferm on bass (ex-Day Sleeper), Matt Robidoux on guitar (he was in the excellent, though mathy Graph), as well as Dupuis herself.

So, while not even the latest of these recordings (that’s Sports) is glossy or polished, you can see a definite trend toward density, clarity and power. Where Death of Speedy Ortiz tends to dissolve into inchoate clouds of guitar buzz and bass static, both Taylor Swift and Sports are crisper, more definite and yet just as chaotic. As with The Breeders and Belly, there’s a certain amount of tension between the gentle, nearly pop quality of the vocals and the abrasiveness of the vocals, though Dupuis, on this first album, has buried her singing so far down in the mix that it hardly matters. She has, fortunately, included lyrics with the Bandcamp downloads, so you can make out her striking, caustic scenarios, delivered, quite often, with pop cheerfulness. There’s something Pixie-ish about the way she bobs and weaves through the most violent imagery in Death’s “Cutco,” singing “If all my friends want to cut me like this / they should throw me on the skillet / make a dinner out of what they get.”

Death of Speedy Ortiz is intriguing, but it’s really with the Taylor Swift single that Dupuis hits her stride. You can tell from the very first barrage of power chords that she’s got a full-band, a powerful engine behind her sometimes fragile voice. She’s also got Boston über-producer Paul Kolderie on the boards, so everything sounds cleaner, even the dirty parts. I think that the addition of Robidoux probably helped her steer into more unusual, unpredictable guitar riffs. It’s with this single that you begin to think about bands like Polvo and Chavez. And I think, even more importantly, this very loud, very hefty instrumental sound allows her to be a little more varied vocally, to experiment with soft, even kittenish sounds alongside the more aggressive ones. It makes you realize that even the few 1990s guitar-driven post-rock bands that had women in them — I’m thinking Rodan and Superchunk — never showed them in a particularly feminine light. Speedy Ortiz splices the choppy, arrhythmic aggression of, say, U.S. Maple, with the sweetener of upbeat melody.

Sports is the best of the three early recordings, with its Nirvana-ish wandering riffs, its sudden explosions into Breeders-ish joy and its decidedly post Title IX take on competitive sports. Here, Dupuis sings about bonding with hoops teammates and how much she hates indoor soccer and the ubiquitous “belly shirt.” She describes young female life without condescending, without apologizing and without any sort of gender-studies over-thinking. There’s very little overt politics in her music, but at the same time, it’s what she’s doing that’s political. That is, she’s making complicated, tuneful, aggressive guitar rock for girls that the market would like to shunt toward American Idol and Justin Bieber. It’s empowering as hell — and also, not beside the point, a pretty great rock ‘n’ roll record. I’d like to imagine Sadie Dupuis leading a long train of pre-teen and teenagers out of the pre-fab cultural theme park and toward something more spikey, individual and real — but even if she doesn’t, she’s making a heck of a great racket on her own.

By Jennifer Kelly

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