The least put-together song on Speedy Ortiz’s new record, “Major Arcana,” is probably a fast, tightly wound burner called “Cash Cab.” It starts off with tangled, dissonant guitars and whirling drums. A quick hook swoops in about amnesia, with ghostly backup vocal tracks bouncing off each other. The bass takes a solo turn playing hardcore 16th notes. Finally, an epic series of barre chords emerges in a finale that echoes the Pixies in full-on anthem mode. “I wanna be with somebody just like me,” goes the refrain. It’s over in 3½ minutes, but it feels like 40 seconds.
In a way, the album (which the band celebrates the release of at Great Scott on Saturday) is a pitch-perfect homage to underground ’90s bands like Helium, Polvo, and Swirlies. Momentum builds up reluctant steam and then disappears into thin air at several points throughout the album, resulting in a series of sheepish triumphs. On paper it may seem coy, but it’s a style that works for a band who really is focused on friends, relationships, and, in a not-so-cheesy way, loyalty — both to fellow bands around the East Coast and to the nostalgic sounds that fill their records. If ever there were a buddy-rock band to be proud of, it’s Speedy Ortiz.
“I am really influenced by friends’ bands,” says singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis over the phone from Northampton. “We get the ’90s thing all the time, but we just write the songs and fill them out as we see fit.”
Dupuis is a native New Yorker currently living in Northampton, pursuing a poetry degree at UMass-Amherst. But her connections to Boston go back several years to an undergraduate enrollment at MIT, living at the arts-centric “Senior Haus” and her time in the more experimental Brooklyn band Quilty, which came through regularly. Quilty rode a quick wave of regional love before breaking up, but not before they’d booked studio time in town with the well-known engineer Paul Kolderie.
Dupuis instead brought in a new group of musicians (drummer Mike Falcone, guitarist Matt Robidoux, bassist Darl Ferm), and a handful of songs she’d been demoing on her own at home. The resulting single, “Taylor Swift,” meant Speedy Ortiz was suddenly a real band.
Falcone, who lives in Connecticut and is also a rotating member of Ovlov, says the band continues to work mostly from demos by Dupuis when writing new material. “With Sadie writing the material, she’s pulling in lots of influences and bands that are just as equal in that process — close friends like Pile and Fat History Month and Two Inch Astronaut. It’s great how the whole scene has ended up working out that way.”
They returned to the studio this year, this time with Justin Pizzoferrato, Northampton go-to guy for unruly guitars (Dinosaur Jr., Chelsea Light Moving) for an album destined for increased exposure thanks to a new spot on the roster of influential label Carpark Records. It doesn’t mean much for the band’s intimate, shrugging way of writing songs, but it has translated into a busy summer for the band, full of on-location live recordings, video projects, press junkets to New York, and another two-month tour.
And yet on record, amidst nods to magic and mystery (“Major Arcana” is a tarot card designation), the songs are still all about close friends and the constant shifting toward and away from them. “I think when I moved up to Northampton, I didn’t really know anyone at all other than one person who had booked my old band at the Flywheel one time,” Dupuis says. A good chunk of her lyrics are playful associative exercises and wry setups for double-meanings, but personal material pokes through. “Earlier, I was just trying to be funny or flippant,” she says. “I eventually just worked into allowing myself into be more honest, though.”
The best song on “Major Arcana” might be the most straightforward — the after-hours depression of “No Below.” The song snags the most anthemic melody of the record and makes it into a brooding elegy for faded childhood friends and the specters of new ones. “I didn't know you when I broke my knee/ I spent the summer on crutches and everybody teased/ Except for this one friend I almost forgot.”
The band runs it through their typical wringer, Dupuis slowly morphing a lullaby whisper into deadpan wail (even at crescendos, she still maintains a borrowed Midwestern drawl) and the guitars devolving into a noisy meltdown. “I’m glad for it all, if it got us where we are,” she sings. It’s a mess, and it feels like a shoutout to close social scenes around the country, gathered in basements and dive bars and passing by each other at comic shops.
A growing variety of promoters have been checking into the basement at Cleveland Circle bar Roggie’s Brew and Grille as resource for misfit rock shows. Case in point is July 12, when a host of avant-garde rocking creeps into the space to celebrate Vermont hyper-folk artist Ryan Power release of his new album, “Identity Picks” (NNA Tapes). Power drifts through dozens of styles, informed by everything from bedroom electronica to symphonic melodic runs and orchestration. He calls in a noisy backup squad of Guerilla Toss, Blanche Blanche Blanche, and Son of Salami. . . . On July 25 at T.T. the Bear’s, Mission of Burma guitarist Roger Miller presents his psych-era band Sproton Layer, which he formed with his brothers in Michigan back in 1969. They’ll perform music from both their sole early release (“With Magnetic Fields Disrupted,” 1970) and a second album that’s been unearthed from the same period for release on World in Sound Records. They’re joined by longtime noise and psych organizer Dan Shea’s new band, Aykroyd. . . . Perhaps even deserving of its own full entry is summertime at O’Brien’s, whose back patio starts working overtime this month with a series of serious marathon grilling throwdowns. Things get cooking Friday night at the Eye Design-organized “BYOBurger” night, starring surf-punk freaks Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion, Jacques le Coque, the Zookeepers, and Polaroids. Saturday brings us the Awesome Day Fest 2013 with a boatload of garage rock including the Humanoids, Cult 45, Z*L , Eldridge Rodriguez, and more. More BBQ-style shows continue into August with bands like Pile, the Darker Hues, and the Acrobrats, so keep the calendars open.
Matt Parish can be reached at email@example.com.