Major Arcana, the debut LP from the scrappy Massachusetts foursome Speedy Ortiz, is music for the angry and anxious smart kid, alternately seething and eye-rolling from the back of the class over the stupidity of his peers.
Sadie Dupuis is also in a band called Babement (yes, it's exactly what you think) and has said she models her vocals after Stephen Malkmus, which goes a long way to explaining why Speedy Ortiz is always compared to Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement. The pop melodies on Major Arcana are contorted into something more dissonant and dark, turning something sweet into something sour, like a lullaby in a minor key. Even at their most delicate, Speedy Ortiz is biting. “No Below” starts off with quiet vocals and guitar, but then a dour hook kicks in and soon Dupuis is repeating “better off as being dead.” There's something to be said for a band who's catchiest song, “Plough,” will make people sing along with “He wants to burn and it's freaking me out” and “You picked a virgin over me.”
And speaking of the lyrics, Dupuis, who's getting her MFA in poetry at UMass-Amherst, doesn't mince words in her songwriting. It's peppered with lines like "I'm not cool and I won't ever masturbate to that endeavor" and "All you got is spineless sound / I want the truth, even if I gotta rip it from you".
The last minutes of “MKIV” and the album are an ear-battering display of guitar power, distortion, fuzz and screeching feedback. It's a final assault, driving home the point of Major Arcana, which might simply be stated as “screw it all.”