Album Review: Speedy Ortiz, ‘Foil Deer’
Foil Deer, Speedy Ortiz's third full length, starts by "casting out the bulls---." That was how Sadie Dupuis, the singer, songwriter and guitarist behind the band, described the first single "Raising the Skate" in a recent feature in Fader magazine. But it is also the reoccurring theme for the whole album: A lean, sinewy record, less angry than just fed-up, where most songs are imbued overall with the feeling that Dupuis' patience is at its end.
"Swell Content," like all of Dupuis' songs, could be about a number of things, but it feels like a kiss off to the internet, or at least to a culture overloaded with myriad pieces of "swell content." Lyrics that obfuscate and free associate soften you up for Dupuis' left hooks. "Is it getting old, sealing all your kisses with poison?" she asks, a bit betrayed by false sincerity but at the same time ready to find something more sincere. At the end of her rope, she demands: "Take me off your list."
"Swell Content" is the shortest song and it packs the hardest punk rock thump; it finds Dupuis alienated in the most straightforward way. She wrote the album in mid-2014, holed up at her mother's house in Connecticut, where she escaped the touring stress that had bogged her and the band down throughout the first half of the year. "Raising the Skate" itself, the album's first whole song, sounds a chorus like a rallying cry ("I'm not bossy, I'm the boss / Shooter, not the shot"), and contains the album's best melody, and maybe Dupuis' best melody yet, one that seems to claw itself out of a crumbling mess. She is, in fact, trying to get free from someone else's conception of who she should be. Later, in "Raising the Skate," Dupuis finds herself "Holding a package from a total stranger / Who claims to know me / No, you never knew me, man / Not even a fraction."
The phrase is like the gateway to Dupuis' vivid interior world, a landscape of imaginings and recollections that gives Foil Deer a meaning beyond the middle finger. In "The Graduates," driven by an organized clamor of electric guitar and synth, imagined scenes give the song a kind of disorienting realism, grounding Dupuis' defiant tendencies and helping to push her beyond pure bitterness. "We were the law school rejects," sings the former poetry MFA student, in a song about falling in love with a guy in another band. "So we quarreled at the bar instead."
And in the album's second half, "My Dead Girl" muses on trying to buy an aluminum toy outside a dojo, and surrenders to riding shotgun in someone else's car. And, it's the band's most mature-sounding song, with a circling vocal melody that hovers over an intricate but light-footed guitar line.
This time around, Speedy Ortiz got to spend more time in the studio, and they created a more well-rounded sound, especially for the guitars of Devin McKnight and Dupuis, which are used primarily to build dense patterns that undergird the songs. Otherwise, the most notable difference is the addition of synths, but they're used only sparsely, and anyway, they don't impinge on the music's overall organic structure. It's just added muscle, giving the band a stronger build and allowing Dupuis to not only cast off the bulls---, but to go off imagining something better.