“Watch your back, because baby’s so good with a blade”, forewarns Sadie Dupuis as she brings Foil Deer’s undulating curtain raiser to a close, fully inline with a recurring motif of Speedy Ortiz’s second LP to hold bitterness from an unhappier adolescence. But then again, she’s also really good with a pen and paper and a guitar, so the now 26-year-old now siphons any of that remaining bitterness into writing this playfully evasive, prolifically intelligent, relentlessly addictive rock music.
It’s hard to stay objective when I’m writing a review of this record, because to put it simply, I love Speedy Ortiz. I loved 2013’s debut, Major Arcana, I love Sadie Dupuis, and I love how she is a better lyricist, better guitarist and better music writer than I could ever hope to be. Hey, I also love how she was in an all-female Pavement tribute band named ‘Babement’, but I suppose that’s by the by… Rest assured though, any predetermined preconceptions that I might have had that this album being anything other than top drawer are 100% justified anyway, so this allows me to write about the brilliance of Foil Deer without feeling the slightest bit hyperbolic.
Like Major Arcana 2 years before it, Foil Deer is an album that doesn’t need to grow on you. Its infection is immediate, and from the first time you’re tangled up in the agile, corkscrewing guitar melodies and deceptive dynamics, you’ll be consumed. The differences with this record from its predecessor are however just as impressive. This is a much more cultivated Dupuis, governing her band with sharper teeth and all the assurance of a particularly arrogant peacock. She has her emotions on custom-made tethers, allowing them to run amok until the end of the tethers are reached, before reining them in and remaining in total control of every lyric she delivers.
The contortions of the bands guitar skits are arguably as impressive as Sadie’s lyrical proficiency. She entwines her misleading melodies around the band’s adroit rhythm section in the same manner in which a sadistic surgeon would meticulously wield a scalpel over an anaesthetized subject, not sparing a thought for any lasting repercussions for the unsuspecting victim. In the nucleus of the record, tracks such as Dot X and Homovonous are prime examples of this, and in the latter, even a punishing, fat-stringed riff manages to sound more dainty than threatening, due largely to the meticulous control the band have over their sound.
I’m trying really hard not to let this slip into a track-by-track review, which is hard as I’ve already listened to this album pretty much on repeat for the last week or so, and feel as familiar with each track as I do with Major Arcana (which, 2 years on, is sky high on my iTunes play count). It would be doing it a disservice if I was to do so, as although I easily could, this is a record all about the discipline and authority that Dupuis has over her music, and the efficiency at which she can transmit its furnishings with such dexterity and a nimble tongue. Her wordplay ducks and weaves among the braided guitar melodies and idiosyncratic rhythm section with a razor-sharp cutting edge, and with varying levels of daintiness, allowing the dangerously catchy melodies and thicker-bodied hooks to amass into a fantastically fluid LP.
It would however be simply impossible to round this off without alluding to a couple of highest-lights amongst a continuous reel of highlights. With Foil Deer, the band show more strings to their bows than they have with any of their previous releases. From the subtly shimmering synths that glint in The Graduates to the dark, hip-hoppish groove-fest that is Puffer, we really are treated to an immensely savvy exhibition of indie-rock sovereignty. Dupuis’ wordplay shows no sign of floundering throughout the record’s course either – she even manages to drop words such as ‘balustrade’ into 90-second squall Swell Content without even batting an eyelid.
When someone has such control over the transmittance of his or her emotions, the more vulnerable moments are always going to be profoundly cutting, and the latter stages of Foil Deer are doubly concentrated in this respect. The likes of My Dead Girl, which is gorgeously structured, and Mister Difficult, which generates an Amnesiac-esque soundscape in its early moments, are the most pertinent conveyances of those vulnerabilities. Dupuis brandishes the lyrical contents of Foil Deer like a lethal weapon, always warning and never assaulting. In Raising The Skate, Dupuis states that she’s not bossy, she’s the boss, and with regards of the two LPs she’s dropped thus far, she’s a hugely adept one at that. I think it’s safe to say that Foil Deer will emulate Major Arcana in occupying a lofty perch on many an End of Year List. I’m still trying to work out why I haven’t given this 100%. It gets 95%, and will be universally acclaimed. Bravo, Sadie.
FIRST PUBLISHED ON NO RIPCORD