Speedy Ortiz is the definition of an indie-rock band. When you think of the most stereotypical indie-rock band—frontman with wiry but melodic guitar lines, another guitar that does the flashy stuff, basic bass lines, drums that break and come in at all the right times, and just enough feedback to be edgy and not power-pop but not enough feedback to cite Sonic Youth as an influence—it’s Speedy Ortiz you’re imagining.
In other words, Speedy Ortiz and its new album Foil Deer manage to distill indie rock to its most basic elements. This is where personal preference comes in: If you, as a rule, like American indie rock, you will like Speedy Ortiz. It is quintessential indie rock, which makes its music hard to dislike, unless you a) hate guitar music, in which case I can’t help you, or b) think it’s boring because it’s rolling with the same indie-rock wheel that R.E.M. and Pavement and The Replacements invented.
But there is some virtue in being just an indie-rock band. When you think of famous American indie-rock bands, you think of bands that are known for a distinctive style or musical gimmick. Dinosaur Jr., Pixies, and Sonic Youth had feedback and were influenced by ’80s hardcore; Nirvana had the whole grunge thing; The Strokes are more layered. Just in recent memory, Arcade Fire attempted to bring disco back, and Vampire Weekend has a—whoa, wait for it—keyboard player. Going back to the very basics with Speedy Ortiz can be nice; it’s lack of complication that makes Foil Deer easy listening.
Perhaps Speedy Ortiz’s equivalent is British indie bands of the 2010s—the ones with mildly witty lyrics complaining about life in Manchester or wherever—but even they tend to crib from different British rock lineages to form a distinctly British sound. However, about halfway through Foil Deer, I was bored. After a while, the music is just…bland. Speedy Ortiz has a distinct American indie-rock heritage but mostly fails to differentiate itself from the bands it was inspired by.
Foil Deer is saved from being a carbon copy of Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by frontwoman Sadie DuPuis’s lyrics. “Raising the Skate” is a rousing feminist anthem centered on the rallying cry, “I’m not bossy; I’m the boss!” The next track, “The Graduates,” sweetly confronts a chronic underachiever’s feelings of worthlessness (“We were the French Club dropouts/ but we never got excused from class./ The secretary must have been high to turn a blind eye on us sneaking out back.”) and how those emotions seep into relationships (“So will you cauterize the bleeding or bastardize the meaning?/ I’m the one worth seeing”). It’s a poetic but cutting writing style, one that DuPuis has incorporated since Speedy Ortiz’s debut single “Taylor Swift”; all of the 11 songs on Foil Deer have at least one little gem like the lyrics quoted here.
On the flipside of those two album highlights, the three long songs on Foil Deer are all too goddamn long. Just like its hero Pavement, Speedy Ortiz has a good ear for a melodic riff, but when the tempo is slow, like on “Zig,” “My Dead Girl,” and “Dvrk Wvrld,” the four minutes seem like eight, and it’s easy to lose interest two-thirds of the way through.
If I were a Pavement fan, my experience with Foil Deer would have undoubtedly been more pleasant; if Speedy Ortiz’s earlier music wasn’t clue enough, the fact that it supported Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks on tour should be. Foil Deer can be received in two ways: You can focus on Dupuis’s lyrical capability and ignore the fact that if you subtracted her and added Rivers Cuomo, you’d get Weezer (“a poor man’s Pavement”), or you can ignore the math and realize Speedy Ortiz sounds like every other American indie-rock band.