After breaking through with their impressive debut, expectations were high for Speedy Ortiz’s follow-up to Major Arcana. Fans of the group’s version of knotty, guitar-based mid-90’s indie rock will be glad to hear that Foil Deer fits perfectly alongside their previous work. Though at times it is difficult to determine how it distinguishes itself from its predecessors, Foil Deer is still a showcase for the band’s greatest strengths: intricate guitar noodles delivered with a satisfying crunch, punctuated by powerful percussive outbursts.
The easiest musical comparison that critics rely on to describe Speedy Ortiz’s style is Pavement, but that is somewhat misleading, since Pavement’s catalog was more diverse than what most people remember; there is nothing on Foil Deer that recalls “Conduit For Sale” or “Range Life”, for example. Instead, Speedy Ortiz for the most part is content to explore only one part of Pavement’s aesthetic (though not the same aspect in which Parquet Courts makes their living, for the record), namely the seemingly-aimless guitar melodies, prevalence of dissonant chords, and off-kilter rhythm section. Vocally, Pavement and Speedy Ortiz share a similar approach, but with one key difference: though the two groups will never be heralded for the technical skills of their singers, Sadie Dupuis offers a more direct approach with her singing, unlike Stephen Malkmus, who more often than not hints at a song’s melody with his vocals. In both cases the vocals are only a secondary concern.
Songs like the quotable “Raising the Skate” (numerous publications have cited the line “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss” as the exemplar of the album’s lyrical themes) shows the band adding the punch that the band displayed with the Real Hair EP released last year to their trademark sound, and “Swell Content” shows that the band can pack their sound into a tight, catchy, and concise package. However, the highlights of the album though are when Speedy Ortiz shifts away from their comfort zone, like when the band experiments with electronics on the groovy “Puffer” or dials the attack back a bit with the almost-ballad “Mister Difficult”, whose chorus may have the best hook on the album. These tracks help stave off the potential for monotony and help elevate the second half of the album.
Foil Deer takes some time for the listener to unpack, as it takes multiple spins for particular details to emerge. The good news is that with repeated listens, songs that initially seem like merely pleasant background music eventually reveal their depth, as it becomes easier to spot countermelodies and other sonic embellishments. Speedy Ortiz may not have experimented much with the formula they developed for Major Arcana, but if the band keeps delivering solid results like Foil Deer their fans are unlikely to complain.