Guitar lines fall somewhere between avant-garde and bubblegum pop on Speedy Ortiz’ third official LP, Twerp Verse. Such unusual compositions are the perfect vehicle for Sadie Dupuis’ moseying vignettes on life, anguish and toxic masculinity. Her voice transports at every turn, dancing through falsetto, vibrato and pseudo-rap… occasionally in the same song.
Melodies pick up pace without warning and then chopped in their foxtrot tracks. The variation on display here is nothing short of eclectic, unexpected territories delved into with Sergeant Pepper authority. ‘Lean In When I Suffer’ is freewheeling, (almost) jazz-like in its stuttering antistructure. ‘Backslidin’’ produces a heavy, surging chorus from its backside. ‘I’m Blessed’ is an acme, teasing and taunting, shifting back and forth between the ethereal and the elastic. Dupuis is like Tinker Bell with a biro – whether wickedly impish or poised to kill, who can be sure?
If listening to Twerp Verse feels like scaling a steep mountain without a decline, ‘Villain’ is the summit. A sinister whistle gives way to grungy apathy: “We ride the same bus / He knows my name / Covers a wet cloth / He sweats disdain”. It is a loaded gun of a track, menacing enough to keep its vulgar recipient awake at night. In fact, it’s so catchy they’re probably singing it in their sleep.
What are Speedy Ortiz and do they come from Earth? They have mastered the art of incoherence. They remind a little of St. Vincent… but go looking for influences, good luck, bye-bye. If this sounds like a criticism, it’s far from one. They are in a surreal, incomparable league of their own – no one has told them they’re playing the wrong game yet because, somehow, they’re playing a better one.
Conviction is required to open an album with the line, “The year of the weird / bookended by booty pics I never posted”. Twerp Verse’s stubborn refusal to abide by sane pop convention more than vindicates its belonging in 2018. That it works at all is perverse – by the third or fourth play its nuances unravel like clothes on a flasher, allowing you to appreciate them doubly. Hear it, hmm over it, listen again and just try to buck it off – I dare you.