Sadie Dupuis would have been a natural pop star. With her clear, sweet voice and a high-watt smile, the Speedy Ortiz singer and guitarist has the kind of aesthetic that makes big-name song doctors and major-label record executives twitch with avarice. Yet Dupuis is no mass-market ingenue. Despite toying with a glossy pop sound on “Get a Yes,” an anthem to consent from her 2016 solo record Slugger, she has a punky subversive streak that shines through in her work with Speedy Ortiz. It’s brighter than ever on the band’s new album.
Dupuis and her bandmates (Mike Falcone on drums, Darl Ferm on bass and Andy Moholt on guitar) have a knack for pairing sugary hooks with chaotic musical accompaniment, resulting in a push-pull effect that is occasionally disorienting and just as often exhilarating. Dissonant lead guitar careens through opener “Buck Me Off,” as if playing all the right notes in the wrong key, and Dupuis’ catchy melody on “Moving In” floats through a dense wash of spiky guitars and crashing drums. Dissonant guitars wander in circles around her voice on “Backslidin’,” and the music lurches so much between stops and starts on “Lean in When I Suffer” that it’s easy to lose track of the melody.
The melody is definitely there, though. In fact, for all the band’s efforts to disguise just how catchy these songs are, the melodies more than hold their own. “Lucky 88” sounds at first like it was cobbled together from parts of other songs, but the elements snap into focus on the chorus with a fiercely catchy vocal hook and sardonic lyrics about trying to get by on your own merits instead of relying on money or connections. There’s a lot of rhythmic thumping under a knotty guitar line on “Villain,” and a churning accompaniment that more obviously goes with Dupuis’ melody on “Sport Death,” which features surging guitars that push her voice along as if she’s riding on the crest of a wave. Then there’s “You Hate the Title.” Hidden away at the end of the record, it’s the most buoyantly catchy song that Speedy Ortiz has released so far. A bold synthesizer riff carries the tune over a straightforward beat (there’s even cowbell) as Dupuis offers the perfect mantra for an age of incoherence when she sings, “I can’t, I can’t with your ‘just can’t even.’”
It’s entirely possible they’re taking the piss, but it doesn’t really matter. The song is still an irrepressible capper to an album that strikes a balance between thorny and accessible in a way that’s smart and tuneful. Dupuis may have opted against pursuing pop stardom, but she and Speedy Ortiz are rock stars in all the right ways.