Written by: Dave Cantrell
Endowed with a passive-aggressive indifference (which is to say petulant, but not too) as readily evidenced by their facebook page – “band that plays shows and eats stuff” – it’s no wonder Western Massachusetts band Speedy Ortiz produce a party-angsty racket that would have fit right in back in the slacker grunge heyday of the early 90’s. There will be times, listening to Major Arcana, their debut on Carpark, where you’ll be convinced you heard this band on 120 Minutes just after Zuzu’s Petals. You might even go fishing for it on You Tube, one of those vintage videos with the quaint little printing in the lower left hand corner, blurred by time. Whereas this should almost certainly lead to an outbreak of withering criticism, callously dismissive of what’s perceived as a cynical grab at the last golden-ring era of the music industry, slamming the parade of derivations on display and going to bed in a huff, it actually, curiously, leads to a polar, and charming, opposite reaction. How’d the band pull it off? Well, mostly it’s down to the judicious choice of influences.
Though you’ll catch allusive nods to Sonic Youth – the opening harmonics on album-opener “Pioneer Spine” from classically-trained guitarist Matt Robidoux, for instance – and Pavement-y distillations abound throughout (nearly every track intimates as much though never quite with the lurching genius of Malkmus and crew), the most accurate assay of the precious ore being mined here points to a gleaming, jagged, roughly glittering alloy of The Breeders extruded through the brave vulnerability of the Throwing Muses. On “Plough,” singer Sadie Dupuis’ otherwise fem-empowered voice even slips, ever so briefly, into an unmistakable Hershian quaver.
Despite bassist Darl Ferm’s tone being frequently pushed forward in the mix until it seems post-punk, in fact, occurred in Seattle beginning in 1989, Mike Falcone’s tightly explosive, Grohl-textured drum support, and the detours now and then down Pixie-built expressways (most notably on “Cash Cab”), our Breeding Muses hybrid also more than adequately serves as s comparative model of Speedy Ortiz’s sonic profile. Just driving and visceral enough to keep the undertow of pop complexities in balance – “Hitch” trips into existence like some long lost Trout Mask Replica outtake – Major Arcana, rather than ending up a slavish simulacrum of its on-the-sleeve influences, turns out instead to be one of the summer’s most engaging debuts.
– Dave Cantrell