Speedy Ortiz just stepped out of the phone booth, their cape rippling in the wind. No one really saw them go in, but they’re sure as shit making us notice now. Major Arcana is an album that tries to take indie rock off life support. It ends up giving it ten shots of epinephrine.
Right out of the gate, the Massachusetts natives offer up the quasi-melodic stinger “Pioneer Spine”, a song that Pavement could’ve written if they had the mooring restraint of Sadie Dupuis. It’s both urgent and in command, the controlled chaos of a bonfire. The ebb and flow is never predictable. These are songs you have to grapple with.
Dupuis is a tremendous writer, but it’s the sonic structures that let her discourse breathe. Guitarist Matt Robidoux knows when to carry her and when she needs space. The album’s most affecting track is the wound-gazing “No Below”, a song where Robidoux fades mostly into the background, letting Dupuis’s strongest writing on the record have its moment. Then, when Dupuis needs an extra kick to the emotionally dense lines, “I almost forgot/How I once said/I was better off just being dead/Better off just being dead/I didn’t know you yet,” he’s dutiful in his support. Robidoux is the Trent Reznor to Dupuis’s David Fincher.
It’s difficult to write on an album this flawless. It takes the alienating conceit of complex indie-rock and makes it personal, has it mirror Dupuis’s own narrative, and lets her lyrics rattle between the grizzled sounds. Her words end up reading better than they come across in the music, but that’s something to be exciting about. There are so few people writing the way she it here. Lines like, “Oh my face is unable to convey how awful I am doing” are undercut by others like “My psyche, my senses make me so offensive.” Shit is complicated, but it’s also endlessly engrossing. Speedy Ortiz is saving indie rock.