A band’s second album is always a challenge — the “sophomore slump” looms. It is often enough to either solidify the band as something worth keeping track of or pull them back into the uncertainty of a one-trick show. In Speedy Ortiz’s case, we can all breathe a sigh of relief: if their sophomore album “Foil Deer” is an indicator of anything, they’re going somewhere fast.
The Boston-based indie rock band’s second album wields singer and frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’ use of clever wordplay and idiosyncratic style as an outlet for her artful aggression. The unique songwriting, both catchy and disarming, would be enough to make each song consistently impressive. However, Dupuis’ smart and artful lyricism makes “Foil Deer” more than just likeable — it’s thought provoking as well.
Take the song “Raising the Skate,” for example. Perhaps the catchiest track off the record, it serves as a socially conscious, female power anthem. The chorus pairs words with a simple yet important message: “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss / Shooter, not the shot.” With gliding guitar riffs and energetic drums, it forces even the biggest misogynists out there to at least bob their heads.
Dupuis turns her frustration for romantic situations into exercises of wit. She transitions from the rocking “Raising the Skate” right into “The Graduates,” a classic teenage nostalgia love song that parallels as a metaphor for her own personal experiences. It’s just one of many places in “Foil Deer” that serves as evidence of the time Dupuis spent earning an master’s of fine arts in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The tracks are intertwined with bursts of colorful imagery. As Dupuis sings, “And we were pregnant on the balcony / and you caught me with a cigarette,” captures the essence of adolescent insecurity, while forming larger insights into the relationship as the song goes on: “Then we were floating on a balcony / and I fell into a trampoline.”
The key here is that Dupuis fights back against such insecurity, something she does for the entire record, establishing the theme of acknowledging difficulties and complications and pushing forward defiantly anyway.
Part of Speedy Ortiz’s charm is the combination of their dissonant punk guitar riffs with Dupuis’ charismatic vocal melodies. The track “Puffer” emphasizes this juxtaposition with its quasi industrial-rock feel and ominous lyrics, where Dupuis menacingly declares she’s “the god of the liars.” When the quick, upbeat “Swell Content” follows, clocking in under two minutes, the contrast highlights Speedy’s strength of versatility. This album never gets boring.
In an interview with Noisey, Dupuis explained the duality behind the song “My Dead Girl.” She had been writing the song about female independence and disregarding the effects of her independence on others (“Better yet, better get / jealous of what didn’t get your name”).
However, she was writing the song alone in her parked car when a group of guys came up to the car and started harassing her. This is when the song took a darker turn: “If these are my last words, guess you found me.” As a result, the song has an authentic contrast between feminine empowerment and the unfortunate reality of rape culture. It’s an example of the complexity and realism that acts as a foundation for the entire span of the album.
“Foil Deer” offers a complex look into modern social issues and an insight into Dupuis’s personal life in the form of memorable, head-rocking jams. Speedy Ortiz isn’t necessarily breaking any new ground artistically with “Foil Deer” — then again, who is? — but they’re certainly mastering their craft.