Foil Deer represents a significant step forward to Speedy Ortiz, but the comparisons will always remain. Pavement and Helium will always spring to mind with the wordy lyrics and winding guitars. However, Speedy Ortiz have always had more in common with their contemporaries such as Parquet Courts and Waxahatchee as leaders in the ‘slacker’ revival that really isn’t representative of how hard these bands have worked to stake their place as the flag bearers for their genre. The sound of Foil Deer doesn’t change that much since the release of 2013’s Major Arcana, except for the subtle synths of single ‘The Graduates’ and shock-rock of ‘Homonuvus’ that is an exciting change to the quiet-loud Pixies dynamic that a lot of bands are toying with. For the most part, the songs never get samey, the instrumentation doesn’t go stale after listening to the songs again and again.
The centrepiece of Speedy Ortiz, as it had always been, it Sadie Dupuis’ lyrics. Anyone who can fit in ‘More than assisted when you cut inside the paper to project it from the lighthouse and eject it out into the void’ into one breath deserves a medal. This lyric comes from ‘The Graduates’, the lead single and one of the stand-outs of Foil Deer. It’s an ode to the underachievers and the the dropouts, with Dupuis admitting ‘I was best at being second place but now I’m just the runner up’. Speedy Ortiz still have a talent for writing about schools and teenagers, stretching back into their ‘Sports EP’ from a couple of years back. The lyrics can fall into the trap of becoming slightly pretentious and so wordy that they become indecipherable at times. For example, on the screechy ‘Homonover’ Dupuis sings ‘Excuse me, Miss Lady. Won’t you excuse me this morphism?’ . Everything may become apparent after many listens, but like Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts, Dupuis’ lyrics are a battering ram of metaphor and the driest wit since Stephen Malkmus of Pavement.
‘Puffer’, Foil Deer’s attempt at a hip-hop/rock crossover is an exciting change of pace. Backed by a funk-worthy baseline and handclaps, Dupuis calls herself ‘the god of the liars’ and scaldingly comments ‘You want a blue sky / How provincial’. Dupuis is still on par with Waxahatchee for cutting comments towards the nameless enemy. The change of pace for ‘Puffer’ is arguably one of the better moments on Foil Deer and I wanted Speedy Ortiz to try and push this path and it made a significant difference to the rest of the album. The same goes for ‘Zig’, which starts with a sensitive acoustic guitar and Dupuis singing ‘How many laps does it take to decide you’re back at the start?’ before the trademark crunchy guitars come swimming in. The taste of an acoustic track was almost too much to handle and I was left wanting more.
The answer to the soft ‘No Below’ of Major Arcana is probably ‘Mister Difficult’. Backed by a twinkling guitar line and Dupuis narrating a difficult relationship. She sings ‘I thought I’d always be a benefit to you’. On the back end of the track the screeching guitar comes in for a brief interlude before reversing back to the guitar line and Dupuis, but this time backed by ‘ooh’s. The feminist lyrics still permeate a sizeable majority of Dupuis lyrics. On ‘Mister Difficult’ she sings ‘Boys be sensitive and girls be aggressive’ and on ‘Raising The Skate’ she says ‘I’m not bossy / I’m the boss’, referring back to a campaign against calling female leaders ‘bossy’ (and not the Sinead O’Connor album from last year, though if it was it’d be ten times better). Considering Dupuis’ hero is Nicki Minaj, it’s not completely surprising that she has the same bite in her lyrics.
Whilst Foil Deer is a more than fitting follow-up to Major Arcana and shows a more adept way with words and instrumentation, the music of Speedy Ortiz is merely background music for Dupuis’ excellent lyrics. The drums, bass and guitar never seem to bite, except on tracks such as ‘Homonovus’ or the metal-worthy ‘Ginger’. However, the lyrics go dangerously close to pretentiousness and require a lot of work to try and interpret. If that’s not a problem, which I don’t see it to be with a bit of hard work, Foil Deer is a success.