Where are you, sophomore slumps of 2015? It’s nearly May and very few second albums have stepped up to partake in the tried-and-true tradition of sucking. I’ve encountered way too many dynamite number twos this year (Soko, Peace, Alabama Shakes, et al.) and it’s freaking me out. So while I never want an album to disappoint, I sort of needed Foil Deer to do just that in order to assuage my fears that 2015’s lack of diminishing returns was not actually a sign of the apocalypse.
Well kids, the end is nigh. Speedy Ortiz’s second lap rocks in all the sharpest places. This outing, which follows 2013’s well-received Major Arcana, is lean, mean, bitter without the sweet and armed with frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’ serrated tongue. Contemporary indie rock hardly suffers for creative lyricists, but lines as barbed and clever as “Is it getting old / sealing your kisses with poison?” (as heard on bright pop punk riot “Swell Content”) place Dupuis among the upper echelons. So at least the end of days will have a killer soundtrack, right?
A study in high voltage rock n’ roll, Foil Deer winds loud guitars tight around their riffs, creeps in quietly then lets itself explode, and fosters rousing bouts of feminist rage. The astonishing “Mister Difficult” toys with double standards – “I got the message / Boys be sensitive and girls be aggressive” – over grunge-y guitars. “Homonovus” spits acid at the gendered “housemaking fantasies” still present in modern life. (Pro tip: the term homonovus refers to a species of highly evolved superhuman or in this case, highly evolved superhousewife.) The lyric, “I’m not bossy / I’m the boss,” on the brilliantly 90s “Raising the Skate” requires no explanation. Given rock and pop’s recent affinity for all things apolitical, hearing a band air more global-reaching grievances is a welcome jolt to our societal senses.
Foil Deer doesn’t bother pulling the trigger. Instead it lays in plain sight, safety off, locked and loaded. A firm sense of impending danger grips this record in a stranglehold; Dupuis sings as though she is privy to a secret that could undo life as we know it. When she nears a whisper on standout “My Dead Girl”, you can’t help but lean a little closer.
Make sure you also lean close to really hear Darl Ferm’s basslines, specifically the sparse yet powerful one that anchors doom-laden wonder “Puffer”. Ferm is key here: when his bandmates lose him in their fray, the album loses its sense of direction. “Zig” buries him in distortion without realizing it and sounds sloppily overworked as a result.
Luckily “sloppily overworked” is not the record’s modus operandi or the makings of its lasting impression. Speedy Ortiz temper their sheer force with smart, razor-sharp songwriting that strikes a balance between svelte and sweaty. Foil Deer swerves through the political and the personal; it shows off fancier footwork but still lands its punches. This is the stuff of great albums, period.
If yet another sophomore success means doomsday is upon us, then I guess I’ll see you all in Hell. Oh, and I’ll try to remember to bring a copy of this album because I have a very good feeling that we’re going to play it loud enough to hear all the way in the seventh circle.